GAME PLAN: Happiness is a happening hockey team

Jaideep Ghosh

Raipur: Players of India and Netherlands vie for the ball at the FIH Hockey World League Final in Raipur on Sunday, Dec 6, 2015. Photo (PTI)

Raipur: Players of India and Netherlands vie for the ball at the FIH Hockey World League Final in Raipur on Sunday, Dec 6, 2015. Photo (PTI)

It was quite an evening when India met Holland in the bronze medal play-off match of the Hockey World League, for more reasons than one.

The biggest one was of course India winning. Beating Holland, or any other top team for that matter, isn’t something that India has ever done with any consistency.

What was even more remarkable was the way the match panned out. It isn’t often that a top team like Holland (who are ranked No. 2 in the world presently) goes up by two goals – the first coming five minutes into the match, and then finds itself on the losing side, especially to a side ranked less than them.

It was by far the best match India have played in a long time indeed. They showed fight and determination which has been sorely missing for a long time indeed, coming back again and again to take the fight to the Dutch.

Reducing the deficit, then drawing level and then going ahead, India showed the kind of hockey we so sorely miss, the players playing their parts to perfection, especially what went into the counter-attacks, which saw them snare two very vital goals indeed.

It was a reflection on the entire side, with Sardar Singh beginning show signs that he was approaching the kind of quality and fluency that the likes of Pargat Singh had brought to the sport, in days when India was still a force.

Kudos should also go to Dutch coach Roelant Oltmans.

India has been wracked by this slew of coaches coming and going, most of whom have fallen foul of Hockey India and have been sent packing, leaving the sport and the players high and dry, with nothing being achieved.

So it is high time that one person is given the faith, command and confidence of knowing that he would have a long stint with the team, as well as freedom to implement his plans without having to report to the officialdom every time he stepped onto the pitch.

India did beat Great Britain earlier in the quarter-final, a match they were not expected to win, but that match was a far cry from the one against the Dutch.

There are frayed edges still. Up 5-3, India allowed Holland to come back with a vengeance, unable to stop the penalty-corner plan of their rivals and conceding two late goals, including one after the final hooter.

Still, they came back in the penalty shootout, where too they were behind, to finally capitalise on some great goalkeeping from P.R. Sreejesh to snare the medal and a morale-boosting win.

One hopes this wasn’t a flash in the pan, a one-off to be shrugged off as India go back to being diffident and hesitant. They showed fight against Great Britain and tremendous resilience against Holland.

One only hopes we see more of that fight in days to come. There is truly nothing more inspiring than our hockey team on the charge.

File Photo ( PTI )

File Photo ( PTI )

Stuttering Saina: Saina Nehwal looked like a pale shadow of herself in the BWF World Super Series match with Nozomi Okuhara in Dubai.

One often wonders how Saina manages to stay afloat at this level. She often looks to be so out of her league, in terms of power if not anything else.

The match with Okuhara was practically a no-contest. It was evident that her Achilles heel was really giving her trouble as she went down to Okuhara with a fight, 14-21, 6-21 in less than 36 minutes.

The second game was painful to watch really.

Not a great preparation for taking on world champion Caorlina Marin on Thursday.

One wonders if Saina is being overworked. She of course would know best how her body was coping with the punishment day in and day out, but to see a physio posted courtside while she plays is not a great sign.

There could really be a case for her to take a load off and stay away from competition for as long as possible before the Rio Olympics.

But such is the nature of the beast that there are commitments that need to be met. But they aren’t helping.

New Delhi: Indian players celebrate the dismissal of Kyle Abbott of South Africa during final day of the fourth Test match at Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium in New Delhi on Monday, Dec 7, 2015. PTI Photo

New Delhi: Indian players celebrate the dismissal of Kyle Abbott of South Africa during final day of the fourth Test match at Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium in New Delhi on Monday, Dec 7, 2015. PTI Photo

Proteas packed off: Difficult to pinpoint what the high point was of the Kotla Test. Was it the immense patience and concentration displayed by Hashim Amla? Or AB de Villers’ focus?

Or was it the fact that India finally did manage to win?

Well, as home supporters, we are so glad that they did. Would have been quite a shame if a side had managed to bat a day-and-a-half against supposedly the best spinner in the world and pulled off a draw while chasing 400-plus runs.

But some credit must go to the Kotla curator too. His pitch was possibly the best seen in a Test in India for a long time indeed. Enough for Virat Kohli, Ravi Shastri and the BCCI go defiant about the rubbish that had been served out in Kanpur and Nagpur.

But it was a series win where India was ahead in most fields. There will always be glitches in the set-up, but at least India is back to winning ways.