GAME PLAN – Hockey team provides some joy, lot of relief

Jaideep Ghosh

London: India's Danish Mujtaba, right, and Great Britain's Ian Sloan battle for the ball during day two of the FIH Men's Champions Trophy hockey competition at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London, Saturday, June 11, 2016. Photo: AP/PTI

London: India’s Danish Mujtaba, right, and Great Britain’s Ian Sloan battle for the ball during day two of the FIH Men’s Champions Trophy hockey competition at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London, Saturday, June 11, 2016.
Photo: AP/PTI

It is with a sense of relief that one looks at the performance of the Indian hockey team in the Champions Trophy.

They have managed to match wits with some of the top teams of the world, which sees them on the edge of making the final.

While that may be a bridge too far, given that they need to get past Australia, but it isn’t totally out of the realms of possibility.

That, since India have in the recent past managed to get past Australia on occasion, especially in a Test match played recently in Raipur.

But that having been said, the scales are still tilted overwhelmingly against India, since Australia have shown in this tournament that they can do almost anything.

So the immediate reaction of all concerned should be one of relief, not some great anticipation of some trophy-lifting feat. Especially since, if they make it to the final, they will face the Aussies again.

India have managed to pull their weight and being second on the points tally behind Australia isn’t such a bad thing.

They were a little underwhelming against the Germans in the first match, letting go of the lead late in the game to be held 3-3. But here too, the fact that they scored three goals was worth noticing.

The match with hosts Britain was India’s best showing in the tournament so far. Britain aren’t a side to be trifled with, and to keep down to one goal after taking a 2-0 lead is quite something.

That was when people back home began to sit up and take notice.

India then oscillated between poor and average. The match with Belgium was lost due to some unimaginative defensive work and some rather poor finishing at the other end.

London: India's Manpreet Singh, left, and South Korea's Lee Namyong battle for the ball during day four of the FIH Men's Champions Trophy at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London, Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Photo: AP/PTI

London: India’s Manpreet Singh, left, and South Korea’s Lee Namyong battle for the ball during day four of the FIH Men’s Champions Trophy at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London, Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Photo: AP/PTI

The Korea match was won with a late goal, which was a relief, since normally it is India that is at the receiving end of late scores.

So essentially, it was a performance which promises a bit, though the rough edges are still pretty evident.

Coach Roelant Oltmans has done a pretty good job, make no mistake. He isn’t spectacular as a person – quite the opposite – nor does he make any extravagant claims.

But the improvement is there to be seen.

The defence isn’t as porous as it used to be. There was a time when India struggled to complete a 70-minute match, invariably losing ground and games in the last ten minutes.

Maybe they have found themselves more comfortable in the four-quarter format, which gives the players time to recover after every 15 minutes, as well as re-jig strategy if required.

So the defence is in decent form and the attack shows promise off and on. One would dearly love to see cooler heads in the opposition D.

But if everything was perfect, we wouldn’t be celebrating less-than-perfection.

Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh has had a show which largely reflects the side’s performances. He really needs to be in paramount form if we hope to get past Australia.

The Rio Olympics are just around the corner. One has a sinking feeling that this time, the Indian athletes will not even reach the level they did in London.

That being said, the hockey team’s display comes as a breath of fresh air. They may still be a distance away from regaining Olympic glory, but you can at least expect a decent showing.

That should be worth following.

Harare: Zimbabwean batsman Vusimusi Sibanda, right, plays a shot next to Indian wicket keeper MS Dhoni during the One Day International cricket match against India at Harare Sports Club, Wednesday, June, 15, 2016. The Indian cricket team is in Zimbabwe for One Day International and T20 matches. Photo: AP/PTI

Harare: Zimbabwean batsman Vusimusi Sibanda, right, plays a shot next to Indian wicket keeper MS Dhoni during the One Day International cricket match against India at Harare Sports Club, Wednesday, June, 15, 2016. The Indian cricket team is in Zimbabwe for One Day International and T20 matches.
Photo: AP/PTI

Team India?: One wonders what is it that decides the formation of a team for any contest. Is it the form or availability of players? The quality of opposition? Or maybe that, combined with some other mercenary considerations.

The India team’s tour of Zimbabwe has passed almost unnoticed. No wonder, given that what the Zimbabweans dished out as a challenge can at best be called tepid.

So no surprises that the side that visited the nation was largely a B team, with Mahendra Singh Dhoni leading a bunch of youngsters in what was a recollection of the India A sides that used to travel.

One wonders if the side would have been as modest if the host broadcasters were the same as the ones holding the right in India. One thinks not.

Nevertheless, it was a good outing for the youngsters. KL Rahul got a century on debut, Faiz Fazal of Nagpur got himself a half-century on debut as well, while Jasprit Bumrah made his mark as potentially a lead strike bowler.

Worked out fine, the whole thing, before India travel to the West Indies for a Test series.

Dhoni will return home, and one ventures to think that most of the team that is in Zimbabwe will do the same. So once again, one tends to question the efficacy of such series.

But then, cricket has always managed to be mysterious.