Harpal Singh Bedi / Bhubaneswar
The 14th edition of the Men’s Hockey World cup produced a new Champion in Belgium, thus ending the hegemony of Australia, The Netherlands and Germany – who have been dominating it for over last two decades.
For India hosting the World Cup for the third time(after 1982 and 2010) this also turned out to be a frustrating experience.,- ,
The Indian performance at the World Cup can be best described as two toned. They exhibited some flair and fluency against lower ranked teams but lacked self belief and conviction when pitted against superior ranked ones.
They overran South Africa 5-0 in clinical fashion in their opener thus laying the foundation of a good show in the quadrennial tournament.
It was number three Belgium in their next pool match. India ranked two places behind the Rio Olympics silver medalists were hopeful of bagging three points as were their rivals too, as the top team of each group would make a direct entry to the quarter final.
However they fell in arrears midway in the first quarter with Alexander Hendrickx’s penalty corner strike. Even though the Belgians had better ball possession and pass accuracy, India fought back tenaciously not only equalising through a penalty stroke conversion by Harmanpreet Singh but taking the lead eight minute later with a splendid finish by Simranjeet Singh.
The Red Lions thereafter played full press with 3D skills deploying pops and jinks in and around the Indian striking circle to draw level four minutes to the final hooter.
Canada was the opponent in their last pool game and India needed a win to top the pool. After taking the lead off Harmanpreet’s flick they lost the initiative in the third quarter after conceding the parity. However It was a possessed India in the final quarter as they mesmerized their opponents pumping in four strikes in twelve minutes. It was surely their best encore and now were being tagged as one of the teams that could go all the way.
However their fourth fixture, the quarter final against three time champions the Netherlands was their last in quest for glory in this World Cup. They failed to cope with the high pressure situation of a World Cup quarter final with the full throated houseful crowd having an overwhelming effect.
The difference between good teams and very good ones is that the latter do not fall into the noise trap. They adapt to such situations making it advantageous as extra gas and not as handbrakes on their mental machines.
The Dutch played with short passes and hurt India on the turnarounds. India tried to rush things in the match after taking the lead but played into the hands of their more seasoned opponents.
While the Dutch managed to hold the ball getting it past their opponents first line of defence, India’s inability to do the same highlighted their inexperience particularly in the central midfield.
Coach Harendra Singh had talked about his squads attacking mindset but for most part in their last eight fixture India resorted to overhead passes to get the ball out of their own half. Eventually the Dutch came out trumps winning 2-1 to keep their all win record intact against India in the World Cup. This was the end for India with the only consolation that they finished sixth in the overall standings, three spots higher than in the last edition at The Hague in 2014.
According to veteran hockey writer Prabhjot Singh “One probable reason for this big match inconsistency is poor or knee jerk planning. Indian team, both men and women, had maximum exposure in the year 2018. They played more international games than any other Asian nation. Did it help?
“ I think neither the Hockey India nor the team management knew when they want our teams to peak – in Commonwealth Games, Champions Trophy , Asian Games or World Cup for men.
“After ten months of training and competition, each player tends to burn out.Though some minor changes were made in Indian teams for different events but the bulk of the team remained the same.
“:Could not we plan to prepare our teams for each and every tournament in a manner that fatigue and burnouts are avoided.” He asked