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Pune Strykers - Riding the roller coaster of luck

The Strykers’ loss at the hands of the Comets had left their fans disappointed and without expectation for their next, almost immediate, game against the Lions. The Lions had already roared past the Cheetahs and seemed to be getting into a winning streak. So when the Strykers beat the Karnataka Lions, the victory was met by a group that was pleasantly surprised and cautiously optimistic. Maybe, contrary to growing belief, their team hadn’t run out of juice completely.

But their next-to-humiliating loss against the Cheetahs amidst desperate attempts that only failed, reinstated the belief that Pune’s success is mostly luck driven. This was after all, the match Pune was playing after a good amount of rest with no travel and on their home ground amidst their fans. But the days of rest had not been taken advantage of. Expectations that the team would use these days to work out alternate strategies for more aggressive attacks, more penalty corner conversions and better defense and goal keeping went unfulfilled; the Strykers returned with their game more or less intact on the average.

Then came the team that had been the first to humble them. The Chandigarh Comets had been the first team to bring down the Strykers’ title of the only unbeaten team in the series. And the three goals that the Strykers scored in the first eight minutes of the game seemed like an attempt for revenge. But the Comets were in no mood to face defeat at the hands of a team that they’d already beaten once. They struck back with equal force and the game was a tie until the Comets received a penalty corner in the dying seconds of the final quarter. Their successful conversion gave them the lead and the game, and the Strykers’ supporters’ initial elation dissipated rapidly.

And as the Strykers’ came up against the Karnataka Lions a second time, the number of fans supporting them had reduced. While some still held that they could return, others preferred to display more obvious cynicism. Karnataka’s two goal lead in the first quarter itself gave the cynics the reason for their attitude towards their once cherished team. But the Strykers’ supporters got their reason for cheer as Pune reduced the Lions’ lead with their first goal in the dying minutes of the first quarter and their second goal before half time.

Although neither of the teams could score in the third quarter and for the better part of the fourth quarter, the game was clearly being controlled by the Lions with their pack-like attack and impenetrable goal keeper. And their efforts came through with them scoring their third goal in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter.

The remaining minutes passed before any one realized and Pune had suffered another loss, bringing to light the fact that Pune’s game is average at best. While the others have attempted to and, in the case of many teams, succeeded in improving their game, the Strykers remain where they’d begun.

Their flaws are evident – their goal keeper is more often than not lost, allowing shots to whiz past him and into the goal as he slumbers on; their attack is nowhere close to being as aggressive as the others’; their penalty corner specialist needs to have at least an iota of variety in his shots if he cares about scoring as opposed to his current ‘aiming the goal keeper’ strategy; they have none of the craze and animalistic drive their competitors display and their attitude turns almost defeatist in the precious minutes following an opponent’s goal, resulting in the loss of some good opportunities.

In spite of their shortcomings, the Strykers manage, at times, to play a game that can be called splendid. But these occasions are reducing, and in the recent past, have almost completely disappeared. At this point, the Strykers do not have a game that makes them a team worthy of going ahead. And if the conversation amongst the fans following their matches is to be believed, their proceeding into the semi finals with the game they currently have will be the result of luck that favors them while not being kind on their competitors – and that makes them nothing more than an undeserving team.

However, with four more matches left in a tournament where unpredictability is the only rule, the Strykers may still return. And if they begin to actually play as a team and overcome their obvious disadvantages, they may yet be able to turn some of the cynics back into avid supporters.

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