Historically Hockey has been for India what Football has been for Brazil. The Men in Blue have won a record 8 gold medals at the Summer Olympics over the years with 6 straight wins since the inception of field hockey as an Olympic Sport back in 1928.
They have also won the World Cup on a single occasion in 1975. After a severe deterioration in the performances and rankings, and hitting rock bottom in failing to qualify for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Indian team has got back to some of their past glories in recent years under Dutch coach Roelant Oltmans.
With the 2018 FIH World Cup scheduled to be held on home soil in Bhubaneswar, the 2017 World League Semi finals were viewed as a stage for dress rehearsal for the big event next summer. Indian team management was optimistic about at least a semi final berth in the competition. But for more than one reason, the tournament did not go according to plan for the 2018 hosts and they finished 6th after getting knocked out in the quarter finals. Here we try and analyse what went wrong for the Indian team at the 2017 FIH World League Semi Finals in Manchester.
The Indian defence proved in the tournament that they are susceptible to threats, especially from attackers of quality teams in the tournament. India conceded inside 6 minutes against Scotland in their opening game. Scotland finished last in the Semi Finals, conceding 17 goals and scoring only 6 (3 of which came against China in the 9th-10th place play-off). Conceding early against a team as Scotland shows the skeleton of the Indian defence. India also conceded two late goals after scoring plenty in the two matches (group league and 5th-8th place play-off matches) against arch rivals Pakistan.
In the 1-3 defeat to Holland, India conceded a sloppy third goal just when they were beginning to come back in the game after a brilliant Akashdeep Singh strike to make it 1-2. The defence has also displayed the disease of going to sleep at times, evident from their performance in the 5th place playoff against Canada. They conceded two goals in the same minute to give away the match. Their tendency to concede penalty corners at plenty has also cost them dearly. In the quarters they conceded as many as 7 penalty corners to Malaysia, three of which they conceded to get knocked out of the competition. For the men in blue to put up a performance worthy of challenging for the title, this is one area they need to work upon.
Inconsistency of the forwards:
The Indian forwards has never been the most consistent in the recent times and the trend did not change during the recently concluded World League Semi Finals. In almost all the matches the forwards squandered a handful of chances. In the 5th place play-off match the Indians created a whole lot of chances only for the forwards to stumble at the last moment. In the quarters as well, their intensity was subdued by their lack of killer instinct in front of the goal. The Indian forwards also displayed inconsistency inside the 15 yard circle in their group stage match against the eventual winners Holland costing them the match. Even in the two matches against Pakistan in which they scored 13 goals altogether, they failed to pile on more misery on their arch rivals due to the same.
Low rate of penalty corner conversion:
The most unique feature about the game of field hockey is penalty corners. Penalty corner conversion is crucial to any team’s success. But unfortunately India has not been at their very best when it came to converting the short corners. Although penalty corner specialist Harmanpreet Singh converted as many as 7 drag flicks, he failed to convert a solitary one during their defeat against Holland, at a time when they were trailing 1-2. The failure to convert under crucial circumstances have been a highlight of India’s game in the penultimate global event before the Biggest Event of the hockey world.
Absence of Rupinder Pal Singh:
Rupinder Pal Singh is one of the most paramount parts of India’s success in international competitions. He provides stability and quality in two of the sectors India has struggled. In addition to being very solid at the heart of the defense, Rupinder Pal Singh is considered as one of the best drag flickers in the world. Coach Oltmans was heard lamenting his absence due to injury, contrary to which India’s defensive woes would surely have had been reduced as would have been penalty corner conversion rate increased.
Aging Sardara Singh:
For the past decade the one name that has been constant for the Men in Blue is Sardara Singh. The crafty half back is the engine for the Indian team and has been the heart of every Indian success in his time for the National Team. The 30-year old is slowly inching towards the dusk of career and is not performing as he used to a few years back. The over dependence on the man from Haryana is hurting India when he is having an off day.
Indian men’s team will next go to an European tour in August this year to play against Belgium, Holland and Austria before they challenge for the Asia Cup in Dhaka in October.
1.2 billion Indians will be hoping that the Indian coach will find solutions to these problems before they begin their challenge to repeat their 1975 feat, on home soil next year.