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Azlan Shah Cup 2011 News
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Pakistan loss perspective (5/12/2011)
--s2h team
It is interesting how a Pakistan loss changes things completely. One associates both adoration and anger in extremes with Indian cricket but the same seems to happen with Indian hockey.

Before the Indian team left for the Azlan Shah everyone was saying this is a weak team that stood no chance against tough opponents. After drawing Australia and Great Britain, it suddenly became a strong team. And immediately after they lost to Pakistan, inexplicably doing almost everything wrong for 35 odd minutes, there have been several questions from people wondering whether this team has the ability to qualify for the Olympics.

undefined What needs to be seen is the way this entire campaign has unfolded for India. They started with losing the best Indian player at the moment, sardara singh, to the Belgium league. Then prabodh tirkey did not turn up for camp, tushar khandker and rajpal singh were injured, and when the team landed here, they lost vikas Sharma to injury, reducing the available squad to 17. It may be pertinent to ask why there are so many injuries when there were none during Jose Brasa’s time but one has to understand that it’s not so simple.

India did not have SV Sunil and Adrian D’Souza for the entire last year either. But their absence was made up by equally capable replacements. The problem this time is the absence of defence. And in that respect, this team has come out pretty even. Even against Pakistan, despite getting almost every pass wrong and not even being able to come out of their half, the Indians still let in only one field goal, the equalizer.

Despite crammed inside their own D, the Indians gave away goals through penalty corners only – that too, only two. It may be easy to say that 3-1 means Pakistan were far better, and maybe they were, but it doesn’t work to completely write off a team after one loss. By that logic, Korea must be ranked the worst team in the fray, but no one seems to be saying so. And don’t forget, they are the joint defending champions.

undefined At the same time, let’s see India’s graph here. They led 2-0, only to lose 3-2 to Korea. They bounced back to beat England 3-1. They drew Australia 1-1 then beat Malaysia 5-2. Then they lost to Pakistan. The point here is not that they played good or bad in alternate games; the point is the first few minutes of the second half is when they are still warming up and letting the opponent seize initiative. That, to me, seems the only area of concern at the immediate moment. Plus, of course, a full-time psychologist. Sport has grown beyond time pass and it’s as much a test of mind as skills. It won’t do any more to simply say, “play for the nation” or “jaan laga do”.

There is no denying the fact that the pool of players for Indian hockey’s future is shrinking and something radical needs to be done. But there have been compulsions here that must be kept in mind before writing off this team. I am not daydreaming but it won't pay to be overtly cynical either.

As for the qualifiers, they may be just eight months off but that’s still some time away. There will be the Asian Champions Trophy before that and the Champions Trophy at home, two important tournaments. In fact, the latter will be a much better test of the team than here. All top teams in the world today work from World Cup to World Cup, and Olympics to Olympics. It is a four-year cycle and everything else in between is only a testing ground. It will not be a good sign if the Azlan Shah or Pakistan has to be kept as the final benchmark for India.

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