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Where is the big match temperament (8/8/2012)
--K. Arumugam
The reasons for the London fiasco do not exactly lie in River Bank arena alone. It goes beyond times. It’s a bit of historical, bit of our tradition, and the one which warrant recalling, detailing. A disease was set in, but was hardly diagnosed it to be, not to question the remedy attempted.

It happened exactly 20 years ago, in the same European continent.

India was far more expected to set the turfs on fire in Barcelona in 1992 than what was projected for London in the run up.

Having won the Azlan Shah Cup, and having swayed all countries including Germany and Holland in the pre-Olympic tour of Europe, India was expected to be among the medalists in Barcelona. Coach Balkrishnan Singh was far more popular than Michael Nobbs was till now, so also captain Pargat Singh compared to Bharat Chetri. Pargat was even torch bearer of Olympic contingent in Barcelona.

First match was against Germany. India got a penalty corner. The best lot of the times, Mukesh Kumar, all in his youth and energy, pushed the ball hardly a few inches in the penalty corner sequence. Expectedly, we did not convert. We got one more. It also went the same way, Mukesh’s push won’t take the ball beyond a few inches and centimeters.

The trend was set. No player who was touted the greatest, and best in the world, even came near their ordinary level in Barcelona. The medal hopers were not even in the semis contention, first time so happened, after missing the semis on single point and on goal average in the previous two Olympics.

Fast forward to 8 years. undefined

Same Mukesh was again in the thick of things. India needed a 2-2 draw or outright win over Poland in the last league of Sydney Olympics to enter the eluding semis. Ok Poland levelled 1-1, still five minutes left for the hooter. The same Mukesh who struck against Australia within 30 seconds from the whistle, thereby getting us a draw, failed miserably in front of the goal. He got two chances to give India the lead, but missed from close range. India was out of the semis.

Players go ordinary when they were expected to go extra-ordinary. Mukesh may be my pick here, and it applies to every Indian ‘great’.

The match temperament, which turns ordinary teams in to extraordinary, is what lacks India over time and space.

Take any major FIH tournament in the recent times. 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups, Champions Trophies etc. Did we ever hear India played better than expected? Not at all. Are all our players bad, or all our coaches – India or not – incompetent? See on the other side of the world.

India almost outplayed the hosts in the 2006 World Cup in the opener. The score was 2-2, hardly 12 seconds left in the clock. Even as whole Indian team was defending, a ball goes inside the net, giving Germany the winner. Goalie Adrian rushes to Prabodh Tirkey and slaps him for not covering the angle. The Germans went on to win the World Cup.

Two years ago, the Australians did the same. We almost drew them. Hardly 10,15 seconds left, and we were attacking. Jaime Dwyer trapped a Ignace’s mis-pass and struck, covering the whole ground in his solo. The hooter came as the ball went inside the net. The Australians went on to win the Olympics.

Same Australia was in a must win situation in 2010 Delhi World Cup. Pakistan played their best game that day. A couple of minutes left for the hooter. Then came the beauty, the winner. A forward instinctively sent an over head pass from one side of the D to other, other one picked up and struck. This goal the best ‘rescue’ goal I saw in recent decade. The Australians went on to win the World Cup.

What Germans and Australians, as quoted above, is true of many other teams. Every team that prepares for a target tournament, World Cup or Olympics, go there and give their best. Some may not have finished at top or in medal bracket, but never caved in, gave their best, even scaring the famed teams.

Teams prepare for years keeping a particular target tournament in mind. Once you are determined to be there, and spent lot of effort and money, you are expected to give your best, without bothering about results.

In how many tournaments of worth did Indian hockey team give its total, performed to potential? It was not there at Athens, Sydney, Seoul (wanted a draw in the last pool match, which was not to be, again 0-3 Vs GB) and even in Champions Trophies.

Missed out 14 Penalty corners against Pakistan in 1996 CT, when we needed a draw to enter first ever final of CT. But it was not to be, we lost 1-2. Three occasions we got a chance to win bronze in the CTs, but all the times, lost out.

Where is that killer instinct, where is that extra every player is expected to give when needed most, as Australian, German examples given above, prove. Under-performing, lack of mental toughness, failing at the last hurdle, whatever you call, its all there in London.

There is no point in casticating one player or two. Indian teams as a whole has been flop for want of that extra bit. Is there problem in our system?

Balkrishnan (1992 coach) called it ‘treachery and indiscipline’.

Cedric D’Souza (1996 coach) called it ‘greedy’

Baskaran termed (2000 coach) termed it ‘lack of commitment’

Nobbs now let us all know its lack of’ mental toughness and contentment’.

Whatever the issue is, we as a team do not deliver irrespective of the fact that whether coached by an Indian or not, we had enough exposure or not, the federation is one or more etc.

Unless we understand and iron out this, all other remedial measures will be knee jerk reactions.

The unanswered question is, why do we lack match temperament?

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