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Mervyn Fernandis

Halappa emerging as India's strike force

January 12, 2004

The Indian team frittered a wonderful opportunity to get their first full points in the Azlan Shah hockey tournament on Sunday. They led Malaysia 2-1 till five minutes from the end but failed to hold on to the lead and were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw.

The match had all the excitement a Sunday crowd was looking for. Malaysia had the better of the exchanges. Though the Indians did not have a very good day – they lacked understanding and most of their passes were misdirected -- they looked threatening when in front of the Malaysian goal.

Goalkeeper Kamaldeep Singh has been kept very busy in this tournament; Sunday's match no exception. He brought off some very good saves and because he did well to cut out the angles at the right time India were saved the blushes. Without doubt, he's been excellent in defending field goals.

Arjun Halappa is slowly emerging as India's strike force, and it was heartening to watch him weave past the opposition many a time. His two solo moves from the Malaysian 25-yard line in the first-half earned India two penalty-corners, one of which Len Aiyappa converted to give India a 1-0 lead.

A little later in the game the Malaysians also converted a penalty-corner to draw abreast. Like in the pervious matches, again it was poor sense of positioning by Kamaldeep that saw the ball crash into the board.

Former India goalkeeper A B Subbiah, who is accompanying the team as goalkeeping coach, must rectify these little mistakes and guide the young lad.

Unlike the matches against Germany and Pakistan, the Indians did better while running out to defend the penalty-corners on Sunday. It was again wily Dhanraj Pillay who led by example. At 35, he is still among the fastest. One must remember that in addition to speed, it is the timing and positioning of the body and stick that is critical while trying to cut off the flick or hit from the top of the circle from the set-piece drill. It is time some of the younger players in the team relieve Dhanraj of this burden.

Because of the good running out, the Malaysians, who exerted tremendous pressure on the Indian defence, were unable to convert two other penalty-corners that came their way.

India's second goal was a class act. For the first time in the match there was clear understanding between the midfield and forwards. Much against the run of play, there was a coordinated move in which Vikram Pillay relayed the ball to Baljit Dhillon, who, in turn, passed to Prabhdeep Singh with a flick, after side stepping two defenders. Of a resultant cross from Prabhdeep, in the Malaysian 'D', Hallapa did well to meet the ball with his reverse stick and deflect home to the delight of all Indian supporters.

India could have taken full points from the match had they held on. But here it was where the inexperience of this young side showed. They failed to hold possession and lost the ball to the Malaysians. A poor clearance let to a counter attack and Abu Ismail pounced on a loose ball to despatch home past a host of stunned Indian defenders.

India will be disappointed with the result but should not lose heart. They must realize that besides Pakistan and Germany, all other teams in the tournament are struggling.

  • Mervyn Fernandis represented India at the 1980, '84 and '88 Olympics. He also captained India at the junior World Cup in Versailles, France, in 1979.

Previous columns: 

Penalty-corners proving costly
India gave Germany a run for their money


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Mervyn Fernandis represented India at the 1980, '84 and '88 Olympics. He also captained India at the junior World Cup in Versailles, France, in 1979.

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