|Baljit Singh Saini and Pakistan captain Nadeem Ahmad vie for the ball in Amstelveen on Friday. (AP)
Now that India are up against Pakistan again, for the bronze match in the Champions Trophy, expect a new match Sunday. It was a great victory over Pakistan in the last league match, but on Sunday India must forget that 7-4 victory and start afresh. We must remember that we will find a different Pakistan onfield for the medal-match.
In the analysis of the championship’s league stage, I see India having played true to potential only twice — first being 15 minutes in their opening match versus Holland, and second in the 19 minutes blitz in which we beat Pakistan in the last league tie. That means we have the potential to put up such excellent shows, and also that we are not using this potential to its fullest. There is immense scope for improvement.
I also feel that if there is one thing that is holding the country back it is the tendency to get into fights and wasting time, energy, and more importantly, the winning edge. This has happened on a number of occasions, and India were on such occasions. I find this strange, because such emotional outbursts do take a lot away from a winning mindset — if you are yellow-carded and out of the arena, how are you helping the team' Some level of discipline is urgently needed.
To this extent, I would say the experienced and superstar Dhanraj Pillay has not been able to control his boys well enough. In the same breath, though I would want to say ‘cheers’ to Jugraj Singh and his bravery. It was strategy, but it was also the courage of this young player that saw to it that the world’s best penalty corner specialist Sohail Abbas could convert only one of the six penalty corners that he tried.
On the occasion he scored, Jugraj was sitting out with a booking. And Jugraj scored, too, despite injuries.
What I am scared of overconfidence seeping into the Indian team Sunday. This is a team in the making, tenderly inexperienced. The fear is of their losing concentration that that India have rarely of late been consistent in a tournament. Flashes of brilliance won’t help in winning a cup.
Till before the last match it had been a dismal and frustrating show. The team had performed poorly in the sense that it had not shown up either individually or as a team. It has always been a bits-and-pieces show, with no consistency.
India’s performance went downhill after the defeat to Holland where, after being under pressure in the first half, India took a commanding lead of 3-0. Then the players started disputing even the slightest wrong decision of the umpires. The concentration went out of the window. In international sports, one has to take the bad and good decision with the same temperament. Leading 3-0, India conceded three within a span of seven minutes and lost 3-4.
What was really disheartening was the players who were in the forefront of protests were all seniors like Dhanraj, Baljit Singh Dhillon, Baljit Saini, Jugraj. Pillay got a yellow card and the team went to pieces.
Versus Germany, I thought the players had learnt their lesson. Germany’s development team was the weakest, but proved a tough nut to crack for India. It was a close 3-2 verdict, the winning goal coming in the dying minutes.
Third match against Australia was probably the worst. India were completely outplayed and outmanoeuvred by the quick-moving, quick-thinking Aussies. It was shocking to see how two goals from went from the right post. As a defender myself I wonder what this Indian defence is up to. There was no body-marking of the Aussie left flank.
Small pressures on the Indian defence see the players scatter and fall like nine-pins. The only player to excel in this match was probably Devesh Chowhan. After having lost two of the three matches I thought India would come out guns blazing and regain some pride by defeating Argentina convincingly.
But again one found the players lethargic and laden-footed. Argentina forwards like Bram Lomans beat the Indian defenders at will.
Captain Dhanraj Pillay has been a big disappointment. Age seems to be telling on him, I suppose. Also, the strategy that was being employed by coach Rajinder Singh did flummox me. Playing four forwards — Prabhjot, Gagan Ajit or Deepak Thakur, Pillay and Dhillon.
All seem to run to the left flank. Pillay seems to be playing behind the forwards — in front of the half backs. On the right flank, time and gain I find Baljit Saini covering up as a right out. May I ask how far is it possible for a right half to cover up as a right wing and right half'
Pillay should be playing forward, up ahead, and India should have a regular right wing.
As I feared before the tournament started, that it is the control of midfield that will count much in modern hockey. It has been the midfield mainly which has let India down.
There is no consistency there. What is use of playing open attacking hockey and scoring nine goals, while conceding 14, and losing 3 out of 4 matches' I am all for playing free flowing, attractive, enjoyable, attacking hockey.
But the primary aim is to win also. And I believe more in a 1-0 win than in a 3-2 win. These are things one has to remember versus Pakistan Sunday.