It has been a while since India figured among the top four finishers at a world class hockey event – and, even though Australia and the European nations do not figure in the Asian Games and Asia Cup, we are including these events when we are discussing the dismal record over the past few years. And I have felt no disappointment as the dreary run continues.
Had India drawn, if not won its match against England in the Hero Honda FIH World Cup at the Maj. Dhyan Chand National Stadium on Saturday night, it would have kept its slim hopes of making it to the last four alive. But a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the European champion left it with only mathematical chances of getting there.
I believe where England scored over India was its players’ greater control over fundamentals of passing and trapping besides working as a unit. Simple stated, it meant that more often than not, when an England player passed the ball, he would find a team-mate running to be at the right place to receive the ball.
Inda made a deliberate attempt to slow down the pace of the game – and therefore control the flow in the first half. There was a method to breaking into the striking circle with long passes but there was not much talent on show inside the scoring area. Each time a striker could not get a clear view of the goal, he would end up losing the ball to the England defence.
And when that discipline was forgotten and almost rustic scrimmages became the order of the day early in the second half, England was able to wrest control with an assured defence that sparked swift counterattacks that led to a couple of goals by Ashley Jackson – one off a penalty corner and the other to end a melee.
Yet, in the fightback that India launched after being 0-3 down, we could see glimpses of the future. Sardara Singh, Bharat Chikara, Dhananjay Mahadik, Gurbaj Singh, Shivendra Singh, Gurwinder Singh Chandi and Sandeep Singh showed that they could be shaped into a good unit in the coming years. There are young men who are ready to play their hearts out.
Sardara Singh and Gurbaj Singh played their roles adequately enough and can be the mainstays for some time to come while Dhananjay Mahadik and Bharat Chikara guarded the left flank with zeal. And though Sandeep Singh’s skills in defence can always be improved, his presence becomes important because he is India’s best drag-flicker.
There are many who do not think that Gurwinder Singh Chandi is ready to don the striker’s mantle yet but the lad showed that he has a good ball sense and the knack of figuring in the frame at crucial moments. He just needs to increase the frequency of such appearances and make his presence felt as a scorer in the manner in which he tapped in India’s first goal on Saturday.
Each of these lads just needs to focus on sharpening his own game – and enhance his ability to work with the others in the squad – rather than worry about anything else. If they need to secure player contracts, they can always have some former players handle that rather than get their feet themselves as Deepak Thakur and Prabhjot Singh did a few weeks before the World Cup.
If all those who care for hockey – and believe me you, this is not a small number – can lend their shoulders to the wheel, it will move in the right direction. We have seen a groundswell of support for Indian hockey, despite the team’s successive losses to Australia, Spain and England after that heady start against Pakistan. We have some talented players, too.
Believe me, it won’t be long before we figure in the top four bracket again.
This piece was written for www.stick2hockey.com