Home > Sports > Athens 2004 > Columns > V Bhaskaran
India must now make the best of worst
August 22, 2004
It was shocking to witness such an insipid performance from the Indian men's hockey team in the crucial fourth match against New Zealand in the Olympic Games.
The 2-1 defeat of India must have stunned the entire nation, which was hoping for a medal from the team this time around. But the Indians appeared totally clueless against the defensive tactics of the Kiwis and saw their slim chances of making it to the semis slip away due to some really poor play.
In the first half, New Zealand understandably never took any risk in either attack or defence, because their main aim was to restrict the Indian forward line and not give it any room inside their 25-yard circle.
This resulted in the Indians resorting to diagonal passes in order to create openings in the rival 'D'. But the passes made by Viren Rasquinha and Vikram Pillay were not collected cleanly by Deepak Thakur, Prabhjot Singh, Gagan Ajit Singh and Baljit Singh Dhillon.
The forwards should accept the blame for squandering many chances, which only helped New Zealand gain in confidence every time the Indians made a mistake.
After a goalless first half, New Zealand started on an aggressive note, taking the Indian defence by surprise.
A good move from Hayden Shaw saw Phillip Burrows deflect the ball neatly in to give his side a 1-0 lead in the 36th minute. As many as five defenders were at hand, but they failed to stop Burrows from scoring. In fact, none of these players tried to intercept the strike, making one wonder whether the Indians were playing an exhibition game.
This goal served as a rude awakening for the team, which saw some inspired runs from Dhillon, Deepak Thakur and Prabhjot. One good move saw a pass from Dhanraj Pillay to Thakur go abegging, and India missed their best chance to equalise.
The Indians tried to play some attacking hockey thereafter and forced three penalty-corners, the third resulting in an equaliser when Dhanraj Pillay deflected the ball in, in the 62nd minute, after a pass from Arjun Halappa.
India should have regrouped after this goal but it was not to be, and again, with just a minute to go for the final whistle, a costly mistake did the team in.
Just 40 seconds before the hooter, Baljit Dhillon gave a wrong pass near the Indian striking circle and New Zealand pounced on the opportunity to claim a penalty-corner.
This corner sounded the death knell for India. According to the rules, the corner was allowed to be taken and the Indians were visibly under tremendous pressure.
As the penalty-corner was taken in a melee, umpire Ray O' Connor signalled a re-penalty-corner, much to the despair of the Indian bench.
And India's worst fears came true when Hayden Shaw unleashed a ground pass which went through the legs of Adrian D'Souza to give New Zealand their second victory in Pool B and pip India on the points table.
India are out of medal contention now but they must realise that the tournament is not yet over. The players need to pull themselves out from the hole and make the best out of the worst.
What is unpalatable is that our players have failed to deliver despite not lacking in potential. This is one fact that will linger on and rankle us for quite some time.
Youngsters like Sandeep Singh and Adam Sinclair have also disappointed. The young blood should have played their hearts out, being more energetic and physically fit than their senior teammates. But they failed miserably and did nothing to help the team in any way.
I have seen the Indian team succumb to pressure and play below potential many times but yesterday's performance was simply shocking. Their non-performance will raise many eyebrows since the approach of the team was totally wrong.
The trapping by the forwards was ineffective, perhaps due to the close marking by their rivals.
Also, the body language was poor and communication between the players was missing completely. Never had I seen the Indian team play so badly against a team like New Zealand who do not boast of any big names except that of Simon Towns, who has played more than 200 games.