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Mervyn Fernandis

Another shoddy showing

August 22, 2004

For a team looking to qualify for the semi-finals, India has just one victory from four matches to its credit and is dangerously placed in its pool in the men's hockey tournament at the Athens Olympics.

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The team's last match against Argentina is as important as any other. It must win that one to entertain hopes of figuring among the first four in the pool and coming close to the next best position after failing to snatch a berth in the semi-finals. By finishing among the first four in the pool, India can at least hope to play-off for fifth-sixth positions and return from the Olympics with their best finish since the fifth placing it achieved at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

When placed in such a precarious position it is imperative that damage control becomes the team's next step. Against Argentina on Monday, the team will be handicapped by the absence of Deepak Thakur, who is indisposed after being hospitalized following breathing problems after the game against New Zealand. Nonetheless, it must attack from the start to not only win the match but get as many goals as possible, as goals will count in the event of a tie on points.

In their match against New Zealand, the Indians were just unable to raise their game to any heights in spite of the hot and humid conditions that should have been to their advantage, crowd support and experience the team boasted of. There was not a single combined move worth mentioning as a result of poor strategy. To put it bluntly, it was another shoddy showing.

On the other hand, the New Zealanders, though they conceded ascendancy, combined better and troubled the Indian defence at regular intervals with good probing.

The first half was devoid of thrills, but in the second half the Indians, as usual, conceded a goal within a couple of minutes. In all the matches in the tournament, they have been quite vulnerable at the beginning of a half. They were caught ball watching as Phillips Burrows sneaked in and scored.

After conceding a goal there was a sudden spurt in India's play, and one solo move by Deepak Thakur saw him burst into the circle and unleash an on-the-run wrong foot hit which unfortunately found the upright.

Here it must be mentioned that while Thakur worked tirelessly upfront to gain possession of the ball, Baljit Singh Dhillon had a horrible game. He was guilty of missing a golden opportunity to level the score after even beating the Kiwi goalkeeper on the goal line.

He received a couple of good passes from Dhanraj Pillay too but was simply unable to make good use of them. For an experienced player like him, his performance was certainly frustrating. Ditto the showing of Gagan Ajit Singh.

But India did well to level the score from an indirect penalty-corner variation, thanks to Dhanraj positioning himself in the right place to deflect the ball home.

In the match against Australia we conceded a goal in the dying seconds of the game. Against New Zealand too the story was the same. India conceded a short corner goal after 70 minutes of regular time. Sounds funny? Yes, but that is the rule. A short corner that cannot be taken in regular time has to be completed after the game. The defending team has to clear the ball, without committing an infringement.

Since the Indian team committed an infringement twice, the Kiwis were awarded three short corners in succession. They converted the last one to win 2-1.

A lot will be spoken about the successive short corners the umpire awarded, but I would not like to dwell on the subject because nothing comes out of it once a goal is awarded and the game is over.

In fact, the Indians have themselves to blame for the plight they are in. Even considering the umpires contrived to do them in, they had no business to concede a penalty-corner with a minute to go. It has happened umpteen times yet we fail to learn. All the players had to do was hold possession and play out the final seconds.

Instead of wasting energy and time on matters that cannot alter their fate I personally feel the Indians should now focus on their last league game, else they will have the rare distinction of playing for the wooden spoon. It has happened to us before at the World Cup in 1986 in Willesden, England, when India and Pakistan played each other for the 11th-12th positions. Let's hope history does not repeat!

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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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