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Awful tackling let India down

Vasudevan Bhaskaran | August 25, 2003

Vasudevan BhaskaranThe Indians conceded too many penalty-corners and had to pay a heavy price for that in the end. Though they played quite well against arch-rivals Pakistan in the 3-4 places playoff, the Champions Trophy bronze medal eluded them because of the awful tackling by some of the defenders. The number of penalty-corners the team conceded was much too high at this level of the game.

No matter how well you play, scoring goals is the key to victory. The Indians must have realised that playing well is not enough to take you to the podium; they have to score the goals in crunch situations. What is important is how well you come back into the game after conceding the lead. The players have to work on this aspect of the game, or else the same story will continue in other major events.

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India's tendency to concede goals in the dying stages continues to be a problem and it came to the fore again in this elite championship, particularly in the first match against Holland when the team swallowed four goals in the last seven minutes.

The Pakistanis won the bronze medal by beating India, but the quality of hockey displayed by them was not of a high standard. I felt India's game was much better but they just could not sustain the momentum till the very end to lose against their traditional rivals for the first time in Amstelveen.

After a rivetting contest in their last league match, the clash of the Asian giants for the bronze medal was expectedly played at a different tempo. Both the teams were conscious that the bronze medal was at stake and that somehow played at the back of their minds.

The Indians were handicapped to a great extent by the injury-induced absence of their two outstanding midfielders -- Baljit Singh Saini and Ignace Tirkey. Coach Rajinder Singh had no other option but to play Jugraj Singh at the right half position and Vikram Pillay as link man, pushing Viren Rasquinha to left out position. This combination worked well.

Both the teams, no doubt, were a little nervous and were too cautious in the first 15 minutes. It was only in the second half that the Indians came out from the shell and played some excellent hockey.

I have always maintained that the midfielders have a vital role to play in the pattern the Indian team plays. Truly, the new-look midfield was the heartening feature of the match. The ball rotation and position were quick and the movements with the forwards had more fire in their distribution. Their support to the deep defenders both in tackling and interception was also well monitored.

On the other hand, Pakistan looked a lot more disjointed with the heavy loss against India on Friday still seeming to have an affect on them. Their agile-looking forward line was not able to combine or show its individual skill.

The Indian forwards worked very hard and credit should be given to captain Dhanraj Pillay and veteran Baljit Singh Dhillon for their waiting game. The errors from them were very few and their support to Gagan Ajit Singh, Deepak Thakur and Prabhjot Singh made the Pakistanis defence look untidy. This system of play helped the Indian forwards to enter the Pakistani 'D' frequently.

It was the collective performance of the forwards which helped them take the lead on each occasion before Rehan Butt sealed the fate of the Indians with his 68th minute strike.

Pakistan were indeed lucky to escape with a victory. The high rate of goals conceded through penalty-corners is an aspect which needs to be addressed. This was due to the awful tackling by Kanwalpreet Singh, Bimal Lakra and Viren Rasquinha.

The performance of young Vikram Pillay, playing his first match, will give him a great deal of confidence. I strongly feel that Rajinder Singh should have tried him in earlier matches. Even Jugraj, playing as right-half, gave a good account of himself. But goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan was the most consistent performer for the Indians. He was brilliant right through the tournament.

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