By Pargat Singh
You can’t hide anything in sports. This is the beauty of the business. Results on the field tell a thousand stories. The 5-2 defeat against Australia on Tuesday night has exposed the skeletons in Indian hockey and there could be more coming.
The win against Pakistan was all very fine. Great teamwork, positive body language, and the plans worked well. But a one-off win against Pakistan cannot cover a system that has been in the doldrums for decades now.
Technically speaking, India lost the match against Australia in the first 10 minutes. I was having a chat with one of the coaches, Ramandeep Singh. We discussed how it was imperative to control the pace of the game. An average Australian player runs a 100m race in about 10.10 seconds. Most of our players won’t be able to do that.
Australia’s pace, physical power and dexterity worked to their favour. The early goals were all a result of some pacy combination and India played into their hands by trying to match the Aussie speed.
In this context, Shivendra Singh’s absence was felt. First of all, the suspension was a harsh decision and it definitely upset Jose Brasa’s calculations. Every coach calculates 16 players over 70 minutes. Modern hockey is all about calculations and Shivendra’s absence added pressure on a team that failed to click.
I had mentioned in my previous column that running with the ball will be India’s greatest enemy. The inability to release the ball early helped the Aussies to regroup. At any stage, in defence or in attack, the Australians always outnumbered the Indians. Plus, we lost many a good ball easily.
Sardara Singh, on which India’s mid-field revolves, had an off day and so did Svaranjit. Gurwinder Chandi loves to play an open game and dribble too much. This won’t help against teams like Australia, who are too good in zonal marking.
Again, I don’t want to blame a player or a coach for the defeat. We must be realistic in our approach. It is no point saying we will win this World Cup. India are currently No. 12 in the world and if we can finish among the top 6, it will be a job very well done. We must shun emotion and admit our weaknesses.
Having said this, we need to do some serious soul-searching. Is our hockey in good hands? Do we have the system that compares to the best in the world? Unfortunately, the answer is “No.” We can compete with Australia or a Germany or a Holland, only when we have a system that matches theirs.
India struggle to find a pool of 25 international players. It is because our domestic structure is weak. During the Golden Era, there would be at least 20 top class teams coming to play all-India tournaments. Today, we struggle to find eight good teams to compete.
From the last World Cup in Monchengladbach (Germany) to this one, there’s been a gap of four years. How many players from the junior ranks have made the senior grade? Diwakar Ram is probably the only man who made the cut. Is this the way forward?
Coming to the tournament, the World Cup is wide open. India must take every-game-at-a-time. Pakistan have done India a favour by beating Spain. Thursday’s match against the Spaniards will be crucial.
(Former Indian captain Pargat Singh will be writing expert columns for espnstar.com throughout the World Cup)