London: Winless in five group league matches, the Indian hockey team take on South Africa at the Riverbank Stadium on Saturday to avoid the ignominy of finishing at the bottom in the 12-team competition.
If the reports coming from within the Indian camp are to be believed, there is little unity in the team with several senior players not even on talking terms with Australian coach Michael Nobbs. The team members are also staying away from the media.
While Nobbs did not come for the mandatory press conference after the 0-3 rout against Belgium in the last group match, the players also are refusing to speak on record.
Sources said the coach is upset with senior players like Sandeep Singh, Gurbaj Singh, Shivendra Singh and Gurwinder Singh Chandi.
“The coach is surprised how a crack drag flicker like Sandeep has suddenly lost his skills. He is also upset that Gurbaj, Shivendra and Gurwinder are not following his instructions on the pitch,” said the source.
On the other hand, players are unhappy as they felt the coach is trying to pass the buck on the team.
One player, when contacted by The Telegraph, said: “The coach described us as great team only six months back.
“Now he is simply trying to shrug off the responsibility to save his skin. This coach has lost respect of the players,” he said.
The real problem, however, lies elsewhere. At the group league, it was evident that Indians were not competent to be on par with top teams such as the Netherlands, Germany or even New Zealand.
That they have fallen far behind the Europeans was proved again when Belgium beat them easily.
“We have struggled throughout the tournament. The players are aware that they have not given a good performance,” Nobbs said.
“We’ve occasionally got the basics right and managed to get into the circle, but the finishing has been poor.
“We’ve also continued to concede soft goals,” he said.
South Africans have done better than India at the group league.
While they held hosts Britain 2-2 after being routed by Australia 0-6, they lost the rest of the four matches.
India, however, will hold the psychological edge as they defeated South Africa in the Champions Challenge tournament in Johannesburg last December. The South Africans also visited India to play a five-match series and lost to the hosts. In 1948, India won a gold medal in the Olympics.
In 1986, when England was the venue of the World Cup, India, coached by Ajitpal Singh, were pushed to the bottom of the 12-team competition, losing the play-off to Pakistan for the last spot.