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Mervyn Fernandis

Forward line has been non-existent

August 24, 2004

An Indian die-hard hockey fan must have heaved a sigh of relief after India snatched a point from a 2-2 draw against their bogey team Argentina in their last league match in the Olympic men's hockey tournament in Athens on Monday.

It enabled them to finish fourth in the group and avoid what could have been their worst ever position at the Olympics.

The Argentineans began with the confidence of a champion team and should have been up by at least three goals in the first 15 minutes. It was very frustrating watching the Indians go through the motions in those moments, not knowing what to do to contain the marauding South Americans.

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Once again the brilliance of goalkeeper Adrian D'Souza saved the Indians from a humiliating defeat. His rushing out to defend short corners was unorthodox, but successful nevertheless. He even saved a couple of sure goals from close range by cutting off the angles.

Dilip Tirkey, Viren Rasquinha and Vikram Pillay also have been consistent right through the tournament and displayed tenacity against Argentina with another a sterling display while defending the Indian citadel.

But what can one say about the rest, particularly the forward line that has been non-existent in every match. Less spoken about the showing of Baljit Singh Dhillon, Prabhjot Singh and Adam Sinclair the better. The trio did not have a clue about what was happening around them.

Since I had not seen much about Adam in the domestic circuit I was not too sure about his potential and thus had reserved any comments about him when he was included in the 16-member team for Athens.

True, he is still young and inexperienced, but that cannot be used to condone his poor display. His contribution to the team's cause has been minuscule to say the least. I am passing comment on him because he was played for a long duration against the Argentineans and had a chance to strut his stuff, yet he failed to come up with anything noteworthy.

In fact, he hardly touched got a touch to the ball. Usually a move, pass, dodge or try at the goal by a player is enough to make an assessment. All that was sadly missing.

In fact, the aforementioned youngsters in the side have a lot to learn from old warhorse Dhanraj Pillay. He may not have been at his very best at Athens, but he certainly showed glimpses of the brilliance that has taken him to four Olympics and made him best-known name in Indian hockey.

Against Argentina, he was always involved in the thick of action, which paved the way for both of India's goals.

First, he got involved in a deft return pass from Vikram Pillay in the rival 'D' and laid the ball for Gagan Ajit to score and give India a 1-0 lead.

Again in the second half, when the forward line was unable to string together a decent attack, he received the ball on the rival 25-yard line following a good move initiated by Arjun Hallapa, side-stepped two defenders with some crafty stick-work and gave a measured cross for Gagan Ajit to finish.

Argentina got both their goals through short corners, scored by Matias Vila. Incidentally, both the goals were scored in the absence of goalkeeper D'Souza, who was carried off the field following an injury he sustained while defending a short corner.

The more experienced Devesh Chauhan, who took his place brought off a couple of good saves, but was all at sea defending Villa's drag flicks.

With Indians having settled for fourth place in the group, and setting up a meeting with Pakistan in the classification for fifth to eighth places, one wonders how they will tackle the most feared Pakistani drag flicker, Sohail Abbas. Most of the goals India has conceded have come from penalty-corners. Abbas must be licking his lips in anticipation of a feast tomorrow.

The old rivalry between India and Pakistan has always thrown up very entertaining hockey. Will tomorrow's match hold the same? Or will Pakistan make the best of jaded team looking to salvage pride.

Pervious column: Another shoddy showing

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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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