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September 27, 2000
The post-mortems can wait
Now that we have not made the semis I am sure the post-mortems will begin. This is usual even though the tournament is not yet over. Everyone connected with the sport (team management, IHF officials and other observers) will put in his two bits, as a result of which you will hear a lot of loose talk, accusations and counter accusations. Ask me, I have been through it all.
In trying to get to the bottom of things, the media too is bound to add fuel to the fire. Investigate by all means, but not now; definitely not while the team is still playing for placings at the Games. Yes, the team has not attained what it set out to achieve, but that does not mean we should go on a tangent and let fly at them.
Imagine what they are going through. Emotionally, they are drained; mentally, smashed. Still they have to stay focused under these trying circumstances and win the next match to ensure that they stay in top six and be eligible to participate at the Champions Trophy.
There is a place and time for everything. Wait till the team gets back home and then do a thorough investigation. An investigation not to nitpick and find scapegoats, but to structure and streamline the game in a manner that pays dividends and helps the national team perform better.
India played 5, won 2, drew 2 and lost 1. Exactly the same results as in Atlanta in 1996 during the pool matches. There we lost out by a single point, while here in Sydney we were beaten by the fact that Korea had beaten us in the pool match, after points, goals for and goals against and goal difference were the same.
The same could be said about Poland too. With the sharing of points with India, they ended up with the same points as Argentina. Had the match ended in a 2-all draw instead of 1-1, then we would have made the semis and Poland would have been playing for 5 to 8 positions instead of 9-12.
Fate indeed dealt us a cruel blow, but I would like to blame ourselves for opening the door for the Poles in the last minutes, thereby literally slamming the door in our own faces.
After watching the team's performance during these five pool matches I do feel that our team played in patches. At times we looked good, while at times we were downright bad, with our best performance coming in the match against Australia. I feel that we had the skill, were quite fit but where we lost out was on mental toughness. You have to be trained and fine tuned to face all types of adversity so that even when the chips are down or the body is fatigued, the adrenaline and desire to win takes over and pushes you on to greater heights.
Having said this, I would like to share my views of what modern sport is all about. It is all about winning. How many times have we have heard the old cliché: we played very well but failed to score. We blamed it on bad luck.
I am sure all will agree that it is better to play badly and win rather than to see our stalwarts tearing down the field beating one, then two, then tree defenders with guile and skill but end up losing the game. The record book does not maintain how graceful we played but which team won.
Grace, artistry and mastery of movement are always a prelude to glorious moments in modern sport. Tears of joy, exhilarated audiences, follow it. Often it brings nations to their feet in admiration and celebration. Behind all this lies a story of blood, sweat and toil. Stories of courage, discipline and determination. Modern sport -- we all know -- is not just about brawn, but about brains too. Science, research, planning, management and collective knowledge of experts in various fields have made modern sport much more competitive and lucrative than ever before.
As much as luck plays an integral part of life, one cannot bank on it -- you never can tell when it will let you down. Today's sports person needs fine-tuned and updated training skills, technique, fitness, diet, nutrition, sports psychology, sports medicine, knowledge of surfaces, equipment, strategy and tactics to play consistently well against all types of opposition.
There is a lot of scope for improvement. Hopefully, the pundits and those that dictate policy will reflect on what the team did at Sydney and come up with a plan to ensure a greater degree of consistency. For me the main focus should be on training to play and not playing to train.
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