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 March 3, 2002 | 1500 IST

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Something extraordinary was
expected; not this!

M M Somaya

M M SomayaIndia played a lot of indoor hockey on the seventh day of the World Cup amid hectic parleying, press briefings and off-the-cuff speculations. Coach Cedric D'Souza exit and return back home midway through the tournament raising all the heat and a cloud of dust.

Something extraordinary was expected of the Indians during this tournament but one definitely had not bargained for this!

For Indian coaches, the parting of ways has always been a bitter experience. Even Kaushik, the coach of the victorious team to the Bangkok Asian Games in 1998, was shown the door after the triumphant return of his team for no plausible reason.

With the current team's performances nowhere near expectations, the coach's performance would have to come under the microscope. But there was always time to do the analysis and soul-searching after the team got back home and in the privacy of one's own den.

Outdoors, the hockey juggernaut rolled on. The usual suspects making a beeline for the four semi-final berths. Australia and Korea are poised to make it from India's pool while in the pool of death, Pakistan and Spain still stay in the hunt, although the current trend favours Holland and Germany to go through.

What has really lifted this World Cup is the fighting performance of hosts Malaysia, whose three wins have kept the home fans' interest alive. The reverberation of the stadium when the hosts take the field is a great expression of national sentiment and a spectacle to behold.

India, sponsored by Castrol, logged their first win of the tournament in their fifth outing against minnows Cuba under elevated coach C R Kumar.

Choosing to continue with the 5-3-2 formation that they had employed during the last part of the England match, the Indians showed some fluency in attack.

Deepak Thakur and Prabhjot Singh, at last, could be seen playing with a bit of confidence and making their presence felt. However, in defence there were yawning gaps and more than once the Cubans came close to exploiting these.

Devesh Chauhan in goal did well to block a few efforts of the Cubans and India were fortunate to keep a clean sheet. Against a team like Australia who India play in their last pool fixture this tactic of playing 5-3-2 could be perilous given the Australian accuracy in front of goal.

Dilip Tirkey's strike off a direct penalty-corner and Daljit Dhillon's smooth, indirect conversion ensured that the absence of Jugraj Singh was not felt in that department.

In normal field play, Thirumalvalavan at centre-half, continued to be far more effective than Jugraj and there was the semblance of constructive play from the midfield.

Ignace Tirkey further strengthened his position at left-half and should be persevered with. Deepak Thakur got the team's third goal from a move down the right and skipper Baljit Dhillon rounded off the tally for the Indians.

The Indian team should look for a similar win against Poland in their next match as well.

Coach Kumar's limited use of the rolling substitution enabled the players adequate time to find their rhythm.

Both India and Pakistan face this dilemma of effective use of the rolling substitution rule. Going off the bench for short bursts is as difficult an adjustment for the players as is coming off the pitch to cool down.

It is, therefore, in the best interests of both teams that this rule is used with discretion.

For India, it appears that this rolling substitution rule has been extended to cover the team officials also. A new coach and doctor during the course of the tournament bear testimony to this.

Let's pray that discretion be applied while substituting officials, at least.

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

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