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V Bhaskaran

India's frontline yet to perform to potential

August 18, 2004

The Indian men's hockey team's creditable last-gasp win at the Athens Games may have been inspired by the historic silver medal-winning achievement by shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.

The 4-2 victory in their second Group 'B' match against South Africa on Tuesday has kept India's medal hopes alive.

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India laboured from a 0-2 deficit and went on to wrap up the match in the last 10 minutes when the players proved that skill and fighting qualities will always be decisive in victory.

The highlight of the match, in which the individual brilliance of Dhanraj Pillay, Baljit Dhillon and Dilip Tirkey was visible throughout, will be remembered for long. Not to forget the support shown by the younger lot, including Vikram Pillay, Harpal Singh and Viren Rasquinha.

Adrian D'Souza also excelled in goalkeeping. On two occasions he thwarted good moves from the South African forwards.

Though India's victory was commendable there are some grey areas that need to be improved upon urgently. The forward line has not yet shown the necessary cohesion and the mid-field is also not supporting it to the fullest extent.

Front-liners Deepak Thakur, Gagan Ajit Singh and Prabhjot Singh did not do anything worthwhile yesterday. They seemed to be running around aimlessly with the ball and got dispossessed easily. This made the Indian team attack looking vulnerable in the first half.

The forward line also looked disjointed with no concrete help from the mid-fielders, which could pose problems for Indian coach Gerhard Rach in future games. The sooner these mistakes are rectified the better for the team.

This is where Dhillon and Dhanraj Pillay proved to be above everyone else and showed they are capable of getting past any defender with their dribbling and passing.

I have always believed that even in victory one has to learn and rectify the mistakes for further improvement in such high-level competitions. Harpal needs to improve his tackling in the danger area.

Another major worry for the team is the performance of wing-halves Ignace Tirkey and Sandep Singh. Both have proved to be weak links in the defence, especially Ignace, who is prone to desert his zone and leave gaps that have to be plugged by someone else.

Sandeep Singh has to learn from his mistakes, which became visible during the Olympic opener against defending champions the Netherlands.

South Africa were reduced to ten men towards the end for five minutes which gave the Indian forwards more space.

The Indians have been conceding goals in the first ten minutes, which should be avoided. Most of the Indian forays have emanated from the right flank with little thrust seen from the other side. That needs to be rectified at the earliest in order to stretch the rival teams' defence to the full.

In the game against South Africa India secured five penalty-corners and converted three of them which is an encouraging sign.

The drawn Argentina-Australia encounter has thrown open the pool and is a welcome result from the Indian point of view.

Hopefully, the victory against South Africa will make the Indians gain in confidence ahead of their crucial match against the strong Australians on Thursday.

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