Home > Sports > Hockey > 13th Azlan Shah Cup Hockey > Column > Mervyn Fernandis
Dhanraj's injury is worrying
January 14, 2004
Not often does India have the luxury of being two goals up in a match. They enjoyed that position against Australia in Tuesday's match in the Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament but then meekly surrendered the advantage and suffered another defeat in the tournament.
The loss was of the team's own making. After the evergreen Dhanraj Pillay scored twice within a minute midway through the first-half, India made the cardinal error of using the long overhead ball to relieve the pressure applied by the Australians in a bid to reduce the margin. As I had said in past dispatches, by doing that the ball only comes back faster than it is transferred to the other end. It increased the workload on the Indian defence and it was only a matter of time before the Aussies pulled a goal back through Tristram Woodhouse ten minutes later.
From then on, it was Australia all the way. Except for the field goals that Dhanraj scored, there was nothing of note in India's play. The midfield was non-existent, the defense simply out of sorts and the forward line reduced to making individual off-the-ball forays. It was lucky that Australia didn't end up with a tennis score verdict.
One of India's main weaknesses is the laxity in its players falling back and regrouping after conceding a free-hit. Australia took their free-hits so quickly that the Indians were hardly allowed any time to settle down and take up marking positions. As a result, the defense was left rooted to the ground many a time as the Aussies used the width of the field to make inroads. Coach Harendra Singh will have to address that deficiency immediately and also instruct his players not to waste time and allow the opposition to fall back when they are awarded free-hits.
Midway through the second half, Dhanraj limped off the field and returned later with his knee strapped. His injury is worrying. One is not sure whether he was hit on the knee or the ligament tear he suffered in the Nehru Cup recently had got aggravated. It is surprising that he was allowed to return to the field after treatment. With the Olympic Qualifier coming up in March, Dhanraj must take care not to aggravate his injured knee further. If it is the ligament that has played up again, it could well render him out of action for at least a month and hinder India's prospects at the Madrid tournament.
Finally, after conceding three goals in the match, the coach decided to replace Kamaldeep Singh with Adrain D'Souza, though it was too late. With the defense in disarray, Kamaldeep could do little to stop the marauding Aussie forwards from scoring. Adrain, though he got hardly 15 minutes of the match, gave a good account of himself, bringing off at least two fine saves. Nevertheless, for both goalkeepers, the tournament is their first in the senior league and they can only learn from it and get better as time goes.
India takes on Korea on Wednesday. It is going to be another tough outing and the defense will sure have its hands full containing the hard-running Koreans. With a big win over Spain, the Asian Games champions will do all it takes to win this one and improve their chances of making it to the final.
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