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Hockey team moving in a vacuum
October 05, 2004
Seldom has there been such a low-key India-Pakistan clash in hockey as was the case in the first Test of the India leg of the eight-match series between the two countries.
Trailing 1-2 after the Pakistani leg, the Indian hockey team was expected to make a fight of the Monday's match in Delhi to try to wipe out the deficit and then make a bid to emulate the cricket team in this Dosti series. Sadly, neither did the game rise to any great levels nor was there any sign of the Indian team showing any motivation or plan to take a lead in the home leg.
From the start, the game was dull and uninspiring. No wonder fans were left disappointed by the quality of hockey as also the end result, which was a 1-3 defeat for the home side.
The result left India trailing 1-3 in the series, with the fourth Test in Pakistan having been drawn.
The Indian forwards had in one of the earlier matches showed signs of settling into a rhythm, suggesting they would improve as the series continues. But, unfortunately, after that one game, the second Test in Pakistan, which India won 4-1, the Indian team has been inconsistent.
They seem to have no definite on-field plan, nor is there any sign of improvisation. Add to that the wastage of penalty-corners -- they wasted five in the Delhi Test – which is a recipe for disaster.
In modern hockey, one simply cannot afford to miss so many penalty-corners. Otherwise, there must be enough firepower to score from field goals, which again is missing in this young and inexperienced Indian team.
Pakistan may wasted a lot of chances, but their experienced forwards seem to find some way to score. Their forwards, like Kashif Jawaid, Shakeel Abbassi, Rehan Butt, have found the target in almost all matches.
Then, they have a trump card called Sohail Abbas, surely the most dreaded penalty-corner specialist in the world. Now, with a world record-equaling effort, he will be further encouraged and inspired.
When the series was first announced, there was talk about whether either side would be motivated enough after the Olympic Games. At that time, India's coach, Gerhard Rach, had said there cannot be any greater motivation than playing for one's own country and that, too, against Pakistan. Perfectly said. But, sadly, this team does not seem to be showing that spirit or feeling.
The Pakistanis have found a goal for themselves in the form of the Champions Trophy in Pakistan later this year, but India seems to be moving around in a vacuum. This is precisely what Rach will have to guard against.
On Tuesday, the Indians lost 1-3, with Pakistan striking once very early and very late and in between. The old Indian failing of poor trapping and inability to settle in quickly into the match cost the team the first goal, and then they were almost ready to end the match regardless of the scoreline, which was 1-2 against them at that time.
In that situation, Pakistan earned a penalty-corner, which was converted into a 'stroke', and Sohail Annas scored his world record-equalling goal. In between, they had one more.
India scored one goal, but that, too, was from rather fortunate circumstances. Sandeep Michael just happened to put his stick out for a tap-in that resulted in a goal. Frankly, there was no planned move there either.
Throughout the match, barring the odd occasion, there was no strategy and the net result was that the Indians never tested the Pakistani defence or their goalkeeper. The result might have been only 3-1 but Pakistan truly outplayed India. Hopefully, this trend will be reversed in the next three games. Win or lose, at least let us have some good hockey.
Finally, one thing I cannot understand is the timing of the matches in such hot and humid weather, at 1.30 in the afternoon and on a weekday. Surely, there cannot be anything worse to attract crowds. That's probably why the Pakistani players, too, were surprised by the poor response from the public.
As for the weather, no one can answer it better than coach Gerhard Rach, who himself was a victim of dehydration and had to go off to the dressing room. Rach should emphasize the need to have matches at a better time, where fans, players and generally everyone can enjoy some good hockey.
Of course, if India wins, that will be the icing on the cake.