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 February 24, 2002 | 2245 IST
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'Dhanraj was India's outstanding
player for the day'

M M Somaya

M M SomayaThe World Cup competition is a different league. Breathtaking speed, superb tactical manoeuvres and magical goals.

On an extremely enjoyable opening day, more than thirty goals were scored in eight matches and the tally would have been more but for some equally spectacular goalkeeping. End to end stuff and power hockey at it's very best. Unfortunately little of this came from India.

India seemed pulverized against a not-too-formidable Japan in the first half, allowing the game to run away, and coming somewhat to grips with the big occasion in the second session, drawing level with two well-crafted goals.

The starting line-up itself did not inspire confidence. It was surprising to see Baljit Saini start as attacking centre-half, a position that he may not be accustomed to, and it was not surprising to sense his discomfort in that role.

Lazarus Barla, at left-back, though playing in his customary position, too was ill at ease. The entry of Kanwalpreet Singh as replacement for Barla brought about a semblance of stability in the second half as did the induction of Arjun Halappa in brief bursts. In this was a pointer to the team management.

The mid-fielders and the withdrawn forwards are the backbone of any team, supposed to play the link between the full-backs and the forwards. A big void was apparent in this department for most of the game with S S Gill, Saini, Sabu Varkey and Daljit Dhillon unwilling to receive the ball when tightly marked.

Unable to screen the ball from the opposition and retain possession, the midfielders also did not switch play from flanks swiftly. Dhanraj Pillay, Deepak Thakur and Baljit Dhillon up front were thus left to feed on crumbs that they could get by way of long clearances and loose balls.

On a day when all seemed to go awry, Jugraj Singh, the penalty-corner specialist, too failed to impress. Some of the indirect variations attempted in the first half were poorly executed and the direct efforts by Jugraj lacked deception as well as speed.

Touted as a lethal weapon and one of the vastly improved areas, our penalty-corner conversions must be more consistent in the coming matches. This notwithstanding the one excellent indirect variation which resulted in the first goal.

The ball was moved to the left and then swung across to the right hand post, where Dhanraj dived to tap the ball in. A rare moment of brilliance.

India have for long relied on the thrust and speed of Dhanaj Pillay, and, yet again, in the twilight of his career, Pillay showed the enthusiasm and courage to pull India back into the game and salvage a face-saving point.

His precise conversion of the indirect penalty-corner and the role he played for Deepak Thakur's equalising goal made him India's most outstanding player for the day.

In another desperate dive, he flew headlong into the path off the onrushing keeper in an attempt to score, unmindful of the risk of injury. Indeed one silver lining on a bleak day for India.

In contrast the performances of Pakistan, Germany and Holland exuded confidence. Pakistan, in particular, sent a message to the rest of the world in their emphatic 5-0 win over South Africa.

The expected brilliance of their attack was supported by a rock solid defence and consistent penalty-corner conversions.

India will have to dig hard and deep if they are to come with some solutions in this tournament. To stay alive they need to do far better to beat Korea and Malaysia in their next engagements.

With the first encounter out of the way, the edginess and nerves should hopefully give way to free flowing attractive hockey.

M M Somaya was a member of the Indian hockey team at the Olympics of 1980, '84 and '88.

More reports from the World Cup
Lacklustre India held by Japan
D'Souza promises better showing in next matches
Pakistan too good for South Africa
Korea and England win opening World Cup ties
Aussies play at half pace yet beat Malaysia

PTI

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