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Round Up: Zero out of Six, and how (8/13/2012)
--Manish Kumar
Hockey Analyst
The Indian hockey team ended up fighting for the wooden spoon at the 2012 London Olympics. Not an unfamilar sight altogether except that before the event, there was unprecedented media hype this time. Manish Kumar dissects what went wrong for the Indian hockey team in their five league matches.

VS NETHERLANDS, lost 2-3
We were nearly there! Really? Many Indian experts felt that the Indians played well in the second half and almost scared the Dutch to death. Replay India’s previous experience in the Olympic Games since 1984, and you have gutting stories of ‘nearly made it’ and ‘narrowly missed it’. Imagine if Bolt was mico-seconds behind Blake! It was bound to be tough against the innovative Dutch side and the Indians managed to score twice, which cleared the air about their intention after the intial setbacks. But what about the blatant absence of basic skills – poor trapping, hitting, passing and finishing? Some blame the Australian coach Nobbs for the lack of it. Frankly, you’d expect the players to thrash out their basic skills themselves. The National camp is for honing strategy and learning to deal with the pressure at the top. Surely, Nobbs needs to explain this one.

VS NEW ZEALAND; lost 1-3
Why the shocked look? Former Indian star Jagbir Singh predicted a tough match, recalling the 1-5 loss in the Azlan Shah. Most Indian hockey fans, however, shrugged away the loss to the Netherlands and said, “Kiwis don’t play hockey. Will win this one”. Turns out that most Indians don’t analyse enough, live on past glory and rely on the fact that India beating Italy and Singapore in the qualifiers was sure indication of good times to come! The Kiwis were razor sharp on the field and were foscused on neutralising the equaliser and then setting the pace; the Indians remained complacent after the early penalty-corner conversion, the forwards exposed themselves once more with more useless running and proving ineffective in the end.

VS GERMANY; lost 2-5
What separated the two teams was that the Germans showed strong basics, and India, err... total lack of fundemantal skills required at this stage. The subcontinent team’s performance was all about instinct and individual skills rather than any structure or a plan for the full 70 minutes. Only Indian fans seem to draw consolation that the match was 1-1 at one stage – lull before the storm in modern hockey’s parlance! India’s stategy against Germany in this crucial match? Yawn… rewind any of our previous encounters and you’ll find the same mistakes – beaten by pace, ball rotation and caught unaware by the long balls in the midfield and defence. This is about practice, practice and more practice. Any coaching manual will tell you that except we forgot before creating the hype – that Indian hockey had cut its roots long back.

VS KOREA, lost 1-4
Where there is pride, there is a way. The Koreans had suffered a 1-2 loss to lowly-ranked Belgium in their last match and played with vegenace against the Indians. They were impeccable with their penalty-corner drills, converting three out of five chances. India, interestingly, had lost three matches in a row before this game, offered a pathetic response in their PC drills, misfired all their four chances and faced their fourth defeat. From NNIS Patiala to NIS Bengaluru,every hockey-playing Indian kid knows that the Koreans are reputed for their speed and stamina – they can run for another 70 minutes after the match. Yet, the debacle seemed unavoidable as the Indian defence caved in under relentless pressure, the forwards failed to combine with the midfield and the disconnect at the finish was…unbearable!

VS BELGIUM; lost 0-3
We tend to ignore early warnings. Belgium was considered by most Indian hockey followers as a “pushover” team despite repeated evidences of their growing prowess. Eventually, Belgium blew India 3-0, making a mockery of appellations like eight-time Olympic champions. Here is how the two teams fared in their Olympic combat: Belgians were quicker than India’s in counters, stonewalled their artistic rivals when they tried to beat them on individual skills, gelled better overall in the defence and forward, and their goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch was simply unbeatable on the day. The Indians made a few pleasant moves but were embarassing inside the D, their defence fumbled under pressure, were loose in their markings and how much can you blame a hapless goalkeeper under these circumstances?

Vs South Africa; lost 2-3
This was a symbolic match, victory here was significant to avoid wooden spoon. India was a dispirited side, and did not show any character again. India lost the match even before it commenced, as it did not have enough mental strength or fighting spirit left in it. We do not normally lose to the African giant, this was also reversed on that day Poor defence, poorer midfield, and aweful forwardline. What else is left in a game? The Indians have to do a real soul searching.

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