Last few performances offer glimmer
M M Somaya
of hope for the future
Playing pool toppers Australia in their concluding league fixture, the Indian team, sponsored by Castrol, appeared to have exorcised the demons that plagued them in the earlier part of the tournament.
India traded pace for pace and move for move with the
fancied Aussies in a furiously fast match. The ultimate 4-3
score line in favour of Australia is an indication of the
closeness of the contest and fluent open hockey that was on
India had decided to play aggressive hockey right from the
start. The half-line for the first time in the tournament
played on the heels of the forwards, distributing passes
intelligently and giving Dhanraj Pillay, Baljit Dhillon and
Prabhjot Singh up front something to chew up on.
Baljit Saini and Thirumalvalvan were the pick of the
half-backs, with Ignace Tirkey gradually establishing himself
as permanent left-half for the team.
Saini, in particular, has been outstanding in the past few
matches. Against Poland, two of his promptings had got goals
and he followed this up with another encouraging performance
The other noteworthy performance came from Devesh Chauhan
in goal. Pushed into the deep end with regular Jude
Menezes suffering sudden loss in form, the youngster earned
his spurs with another commendable display.
Chauhan exhibited excellent anticipation and reflexes
while effecting six saves that kept India in the game. Jugraj
Singh's inclusion in his regular full-back role also was a
good move and he responded well by opening the scoring off a
super penalty-corner drag flick.
The second goal for India was a delectable effort, Pillay
screaming down the right and coming in along the touchline to
set up the play for Daljit Dhillon, who swept home.
The Australian moves too were of exceptional quality and they
launched counter attacks at an unbelievable pace. On one
occasion they needed just two touches to get out of defence
and take a try at the Indian goal!
The try, a diving reverse stick by Jeremy Hiskins getting
past a sliding Chauhan but trickling past the left post by the
narrowest of margins.
Another beauty was the penalty corner-conversion by the
Australians for their fourth and final goal. The ball slipped to
the left side for Matthew Smith to flick home in one sweeping
action. The precision of execution had even the in-form
Chauhan in goal foxed.
Post introduction of the no off-side rule, the commonly
used tactic has been the searing hit into the circle to enable
the fine touch from a poaching colleague. Australia seem to be the most adept at this and Chauhan
had to be extremely alert to keep the ball in sight through a
jungle of legs. Two saves off Craig Victory matching the
exquisiteness of the efforts.
India's performance in the prior match too, against Poland, was heartening and the 4-1 victory gave some
consolation although it may not have wiped away the memory of
the heartbreaking draw at the Sydney Olympics that denied
India a semi-final berth.
Settling into a controlled pace the Indians never let the Poles get into the match and the
confidence was reassuring.
With hopes of a semi-final berth squashed, India have seen
the pressure ease over the last three games. Against Cuba,
Poland and Australia they have appeared to be in sync and at
last somewhat worthy of their pre-tournament rating.
Elevated coach C R Kumar should be given a lot of the
credit for ensuring that the team kept its bearings during
trying times. Tactically, too, he acquitted himself rather
His choice of starting line players and their careful
substitutions have ensured steadiness in performance. These
last few Indian performances have left that little glimmer of
hope for the future though playing for rankings nine to twelve
at this World Cup would be rather discomforting.
M M Somaya was a member of the Indian hockey team at the Olympics of 1980, '84 and '88.
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