Defeat further erodes India's
M M Somaya
India's defeat against hosts Malaysia further eroded their already slim chances of securing a semi-final berth. Though, technically, the semis dream may be still possible with four more matches to play in the pool, for all practical purposes the Indians will be now playing only for pride.
Rocked by a thundershower, a yellow card and three Malaysian goals in the first session, the Castrol-supported Indian team fought out of their skins in the second half, and but for a missed penalty would have completed a fantastic rearguard recovery.
It was alarming that all the three goals India conceded were eminently stoppable; in fact, two were only feeble essays which found their way into goal.
In a tournament where goal keeping has been of an exemplary standard, the same cannot be said of the Indians so far. Malaysia were virtually gifted the enormous lead without actually being made to work for it.
The other alarming factor was Baljit Saini's suspension for striking a Malaysian defender. This cardinal error from a seasoned campaigner, when India was trailing, forced India to play with ten men for a long period.
Impulsiveness of this sort can influence the entire outcome of a game and it certainly did in this one. India had to wait for Saini's recall in the second half to mount pressure in search for the elusive goals.
And mount pressure they did, with Saini, Dhillon and Pillay making most of the penetrative plays. The weaving run by Baljit to set up brother Daljit for India's first goal was a treat to watch. And when Prabhjot tapped in a goal off a penalty-corner scrimmage, the game had all the ingredients of a thriller.
The climax would have been the conversion from the penalty spot. Skipper Baljit Dhillon must be ruing the fact that he did not compose himself for a longer while before taking the penalty flick, which would have restored parity for India.
Coach Cedric D'Souza's frequent use of the rolling substitution has been subject of some debate, with a feeling that players do not get enough of time to find their feet. The change though in the second session, where Thirumalvalvan played at defensive centre-half in place of Jugraj Singh, and Ignace Tirkey coming in as left-half, was an excellent move which changed the complexion of play in India's favour.
It drove home the point that in pivotal roles like centre-half only an original player should be preferred and experimentation could be counter productive.
With the Asian leg of the pool now over for the Indians and only a measly one point to show, the next match against England assumes all the more significance.
A contrast in playing style would be the first thing that the Indians would have to contend with. England, in their earlier matches, have shown a deliberate robustness in approach. Their crunching tackles had even the tough Aussies buckling to some extent in an earlier match.
India should be prepared for a bruising outing and should deal with this tactic appropriately. Also, allowing the England team to hold possession of the ball for long spells, as is their wont, will be playing into their hands.
Danny Hall and Mark Pearn will be the two forwards who could trouble the Indians most with their speed and quick finish.
In deep defence Jon Wyatt and Tom Bertram will have their sights set firmly on Indian danger men Dhanraj Pillay and Baljit Dhillon.
The hitherto subdued lot of Sabu Varkey, Deepak Thakur, Prabhjot and Daljit Dhillon should show greater initiative to give India more width in attack and make it difficult for England to contain.
In the past, penalty-corner strikes by skipper Craig Parnham and Dave Matthews have proved decisive for England. India will do well to restrict the penalty-corners to the bare minimum.
To erase the memory of a disappointing show against the Asian teams, the Indians have to definitely play with greater spirit and stronger self belief.
M M Somaya was a member of the Indian hockey team at the Olympics of 1980, '84 and '88.
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