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Indian Debacle: Selectors are also accountable (6/29/2017)
--Pinder Singh Sagoo
Yet another disappointing end for Indian hockey on a global stage which entails thorough introspection and immediate remedial measure so to bring in the eluding consistency in every match and for that the selectors who pin down the team from Core-33 also need to burn midnight oil.

After bagging Silver at last year’s champion’s trophy at the same venue, there was expectations of another medal finish, sadly how wrong it proved to be.

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At Rio Olympics too, India failed similarly at crucial stage. It was to a better ranked Belgium then but now a lower ranked but highly spirited Malaysians.

BACKGROUND: India started London 2017 campaign rather sluggishly but was successfully. Going a goal down, but struck four times later win Scotland 1-4.

The Canada encounter next was a much improved. India played high tempo, controlled most parts of the match , and won with ease 3 – 0.

The third match was a cracker. Despite lacking in traditional intensity, Pakistan started brightly with a couple of early chances which weren’t converted, and then let India maul them 7 – 1.

The real test was higher ranked Holland, winner would top the group. It’s against the higher ranked teams that India have to produce results to be taken seriously as contenders in major tournaments.

India got off to the worst possible way, conceding two very early goals, and from there on India were just playing second fiddle to the much better, organised professionally drilled team. Holland never let settle. It was the usual Indian story.

QUARTER-FINAL: India v Malaysia

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On paper this looked an easy match. But it was not. From the start it was clear the India were fast, but the Malaysian’s were the hungrier. India lacked co-ordination as a team. Poor passing, stopping by the forwards, positional play from the midfield and forwards was key but were wayward, the Malaysian defence were able to deal with this easily and attack with swift with fast counter attack’s causing problems for India, resulting in nearly always getting a short corner or fouls in India’s half of the pitch.

Malaysia scored from their first two short corners, shaken India responded with two quick field goals leaving the match finely balanced on a knife edge! There was a sense of worry in the crowd that whoever scored the next goal would win the match. Malaysia always looked to be one. Malaysia struck off another penalty corner. A tense final quarter started, India now throwing everything to score and move for a shootout. They made good efforts, but open goals missed with each Ramandeep and Akashdeep Singh failing to connect gem of feeds. Malaysia won the match 3 -2.

Fans want India to do well. But the fact is they struggle, seem unable to play their natural game against solid team. Often, the opposition picks off India’s main player and neutralise them. Holland did this excellently on Sardara Singh. He was rendered ineffective, could not influence the outcome. Against Malaysia he did manage to have some influence but the forwards failed to deliver. India were missing a few senior players, in goal and defence, but then this is tame excuses , as every major teams have all started to develop their teams with new players in preparation for the World Cup and Olympics which give them good dividends, like Holland and England who made it to the semi finals.

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India seems to be still going with the same players. Yes, a couple of Junior World Cup winners are there though. There are serious questions which need to be answered by the so called selectors. Was this really the best available players to represent India at such a level? It is very easy to blame the coach, but watching the match’s, coach Oltmans on a number of occasions was getting annoyed, frustrated by the way the team was playing. Once the players step on the pitch they are responsible to perform and deliver what they have been practising, but this sadly doesn’t seem to be the case with India.

THE CONCLUSION: The same old problems and mistakes keep resurface key matches.

• The defence struggling to cope with pressure, resulting in simple mistakes in the D, mistimed tackles, rash clearance’s resulting in short corners and ultimately goals!

• Half backs and midfield didn’t function as a unit in the key matches appeared disjointed, uncomfortable and panicky on the ball, and able to link up to be an effective unit thus supplying the forwards, they also were pressurised and lost the ball, i.e. Holland twice picked the ball from Sardara Singh and scored.

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• The forward line again, failed in two important matches, missing simple chances, trying to complicate things in front of goal, failing to receive the ball or being out of position, over running in attack resulting in losing the ball resulting in a counter attack conceding short corners or a goal.

• The concern and worrying fact is that this group of players are better equipped, better prepared then players in the past yet the same mistakes keep happening over and over again, they have video’s of each team, meetings to prepare for matches, look at strength and weakness of the opposition.

• India’s failure to convert the limited short corners against Holland and Malaysia is a serious concern, while rival teams have no problem in creating and converting them.

• India defending short corners is a worry, in Rio and here in London, I noticed that Kothajit as postman, in Rio was stepping out and moving to his right and leaving a clear line for the opposing drag flicker to score, here he was coming forward and turning his back and Malaysia scored two goals in that channel, surely these are the points that would be picked up in team meetings when video sessions, or no one is prepared to do that role?

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India to be truly considered a major force on the world hockey stage are a long way off yet, Until they are able to perform at a consistent level at major tournaments they cannot be really considered a force. The Indian selectors have to take a long hard look at themselves, what is the criteria they use to select players to represent the country? When did they last come to watch the team play and see firsthand for themselves how the players they have selected are performing?

In this Indian team there are players who are past their best and are still in the squad on what basis and what merit? India’s forwards have failed again; surely it would make sense to try out the forwards from the Lucknow squad to see how they would perform at the elite level.

Teams like Holland, England, Germany and Australia have started to re-build their teams with next World Cup and Olympics as targets.

India missed out the opportunity in London.

India need to look at how other teams have begun the rebuilding process. India just picks up the same core group, go with the same set of players with minimum ‘new’ faces!

The over whelming feeling after three losses by the large Indian fans watching was that they had failed to perform and at no stage looked like they were able to compete with the Holland or Malaysia, leaving everyone once again with the feeling with what could have been.

Mere winning of Pakistan has no meaning. India has to move further.

The writer is a London faced hockey fan and critic.

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