| Devesh Chauhan was India’s most consistent performer in the tournament
|Jugraj Singh gave a good account of himself in the unaccustomed position of right half.
The Indians conceded too many penalty corners and had to pay a heavy price. Though they played quite well against arch-rivals Pakistan in the third place play-off match, the Champions Trophy bronze medal eluded them because of the awful tackling by the defenders. The number of penalty corners the team conceded was much too high for this level of the game.
No matter how well you play, scoring goals is the key to victory. The Indians must have realised that playing well is not enough to take you to the podium, they have to score in crunch situations. What is important is how well you come back after conceding the lead. The players have to work on this aspect of the game, or else the same story will continue in other major events.
India’s tendency to concede goals in the dying stages continues to be a problem and it came to the fore again in this elite championship, particularly in the first match against The Netherlands when the team swallowed four goals in the last seven minutes.
The Pakistanis won the bronze beating India, but the quality of hockey displayed by them was not of a high standard. I felt India’s game was much better, but they just could not sustain the momentum till the end to lose against their traditional rivals for the first time in Amstelveen.
After a rivetting contest in their league encounter, the bronze-medal clash was expectedly played at a different tempo. Both teams were conscious a precious medal was at stake and that somehow played in their minds.
The Indians were handicapped to a great extent by the injury-induced absence of their two outstanding midfielders — Baljit Singh Saini and Ignace Tirkey. Coach Rajinder Singh had no other option but to play Jugraj Singh at the right-half position and Vikram Pillay as linkman, pushing Viren Rasquinha to left-out. This combination worked well.
Both teams were nervous and too cautious in the first 15 minutes. It was only in the second half that the Indians came out of the shell and played some excellent hockey.
I have always maintained that the midfielders have a vital role to play in the pattern the Indian team plays in. The new-look midfield was the heartening feature of the match. The ball-rotation and positioning were quick, the distribution accurate. There was more purpose in the combination with the forwardline. They also supported the deep defenders well, both in tackling and interception.
Pakistan, on the other hand, looked disjointed with Friday’s heavy loss against India still seeming to be affecting them. The normally agile forwardline was not able to combine nor was any individual skill on display.
The Indian forwards worked very hard and credit should be given to captain Dhanraj Pillay and veteran Baljit Singh Dhillon for playing a waiting game. They made very few errors and their support to Gagan Ajit Singh, Deepak Thakur and Prabhjot Singh made the Pakistanis defence look untidy. This system of play helped the Indians enter the Pakistani ‘d’ frequently.
It was the collective performance of the forwards which helped them take the lead thrice before Rehan Butt sealed India’s fate with his 68th-minute strike. Pakistan were indeed lucky to escape with a victory.
The high rate of goals conceded through penalty corners is an aspect which needs to be addressed. This was due to the awful tackling by Kanwalpreet Singh, Lakra and Rasquinha.
The performance of young Pillay, who was playing his first match, will give him a great deal of confidence. I strongly feel that Rajinder should have tried him in earlier matches. Even Jugraj, in an unaccustomed position, gave a good account of himself.
But it was goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan who was India’s most consistent performer. He was simply brilliant right through the tournament.