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Dhanraj Pillay

Strategic failure by Team India

August 21, 2004

As I sit down to write my column, I really don't know how to explain the defeat we suffered against Australia on Thursday. It is now almost impossible for us to enter the semi-finals. All the Aussies need now is to win one of their remaining two matches to make the grade.

After having played international hockey for 16 years, I am quite sure that the strategy we adopted in the last three matches did not do us any good. Indian hockey revolves around our ability to attack, which has been time and again acknowledged as the best in the world. We have somehow forgotten this point in this Olympics.

To add to that, I do not think the players' positions should be shifted around in such a short time. We have already mastered our positions and when I get the ball on my right, I know where Gagan will run. This is the kind of understanding we already had. But here our positions have been changed. In my opinion, it only worked to our disadvantage. Gagan should be played more as a centre forward instead of a right winger. He is an opportunist and has the natural ability to score goals. We need him to be in the circle, either scoring or forcing penalty corners.

The midfield players should remain in their own positions and the defenders should not be playing in the midfield even for a while. They are not familiar in this position and tend to make unnecessary and costly mistakes. To me, we are playing into the hands of the opponents. Whatever the boys have achieved so far is because of their sheer determination. I hope my assessment of the situation is taken professionally as it is meant to be for the good of the team. I have no fear in saying what I feel would do well for our prospects in the Olympics.

For the first time in the tournament, we had an early goal from Deepak. This came as a great relief, but only for a while as the Australians hit back to level the score minutes later. We played according to plan and managed to hold the opponents in midfield, barring a few quick raids from both sides, which did not result in any more goals in the first half.

In the second half, we suffered a lapse of concentration and our defence left deep gaps. It was exploited immediately by the fast-running Aussies, who struck two quick goals. On both occasions, there was already a man behind our defence in the circle, waiting to collect the long passes. Even the last goal came in similar fashion when we were trying to go for the winner in the last minute. I think that at this stage we should have played more possession hockey, moving the ball amongst us and to the flanks. There was not much time left and we were reduced to 10 men then as I was shown the yellow card for a mild infringement, which in my opinion did not warrant such a harsh punishment. Most of the umpires' decisions appeared to be loaded against us. But they have the authority on the field and no one can question them.

Personally, I think a fair result would have been a draw for all the effort we had put in to level the score when we were down 1-3. The boys showed tremendous character to fight back, but it was just not our day.

Special mention should again be made of goalkeeper Adrian, who did a wonderful job. Dilip Tirkey also marshalled the defence well and this time he was ably supported by William Xalco. Our midfield trio of Viren, Vikram and Ignace also did a fine job. The forward line clicked in patches and Gagan's goal from an acute angle was simply a beauty.

Back in the dressing room after the match, I was upset with myself for being sent out, which indirectly affected the team. The feeling of having lost in a similar manner to Poland in the dying minutes in the Sydney Olympics flashed back in my mind and I felt a sharp pain in my heart. Months of preparations and hard work went astray in the last 20 seconds. It really hurts as I know that this is my last Olympics appearance. I wanted to have a podium finish along with the other team members so badly.

Moving forward, we still have two crucial games to go against Argentina and New Zealand. We should win both and hope that the outcome of the other games favours us. Wishful thinking, but then this is the only hope we are left with.

Previous column: Down two goals was scary

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