The other World Cup that we haven’t won in a while

After a few days of the disappointment that was India’s campaign at the hockey world cup, I have time to collect my thoughts and give a measured opinion.

~@*!&^%. Feels good to get that out of the way. Some observations:

  • We were brilliant against Pakistan – Or were we? Was it that we were good or that Pakistan was bad? I think it was more the former and less the latter. The Pakistan game was the only one in which we pressed from up front, harried their players and were pretty energetic all around. When you defend from the front and push up, you make things happen and the Pakis were never able to settle.  Strangely, we abandoned that strategy in our next matches.
  • We were woeful against Australia – They were fast but we made it easy for them. It was inexplicable how we just dropped off and tried to defend deep. Didn’t work. Back to earth.
  • The refs had something in their eyes when they were officiating our games – This is not the reason for our poor showing but we had a player banned for 4 games (later reduced to 3) after the Pakistan match and he was one of our best against the Pakis. You can’t lose a crucial player for key matches, play with a 15-man squad and hope to do well against the likes of Australia, Spain, and England. Against Australia there was a referral that shouldn’t have been. The worst one was against South Africa – we scored a goal and after that the refs called for a video referral and overturned the goal, gave the South Africans a penalty corner, and they scored from that – talk about freaking momentum shifts. When you’re struggling or trying to make a game of it, you need a few breaks. We didn’t get them and in fact we got shafted.
  • What’s with the goalkeeper rotation? One of the things that Jose Brasa did that left me scratching my head. Why rotate goalkeepers? That’s one position that you don’t want to rotate because it’s such a confidence position but Brasa seemed to think differently. I don’t think it helped our defense to play with a different goalkeeper each game.
  • Our defenders need work Duh. We gave up 5 goals to Australia and Spain, 3 to England and South Africa. Some of the defending was errors that you don’t expect at international level. Mental mistakes happen occasionally but we were guilty of making it easy for our opposition.  For me, these are the sorts of things that coaches are supposed to minimize but we allowed similar mistakes to happen in different games. Not learning, not good. There’s a reason for the saying – defense wins championships – it’s true a large percent of the time.
  • The jury’s still out on Brasa – If he is the answer, we’ve not seen much to bolster that argument. My problem with his coaching style is that he abandoned what we were successful at and tried out things when he didn’t need to. Also, I know it’s a short time but we looked bereft of ideas when going forward, especially in the latter games. Hitting a hopeful ball into the circle is just that – hope. We didn’t have the players or the strategy to break teams down. What irony then that Ric Charlesworth, who we hounded out, has now led the Aussies to the World Cup final. Still, we need to give Brasa some more time. (Maybe we need to get a South Korean fitness and conditioning coach for our players – those Korean dudes have tons of stamina.)
  • Hockey is a pulsating game – If this World Cup has proved anything, it’s that hockey is a fabulous game. Speed, craft, stamina and excitement are what you’d find in most hockey games. Give me a game of hockey over a T20 game any day.
  • Let the coach choose the team and captain –  Fabio Capello, the England football team coach, chooses his players and his captain. He watches club games, scouts players, and then picks his team. Why not make the same thing for our hockey team? Having selectors, who typically have some agenda or the other choose teams, hasn’t worked great for us. Maybe it’s time to try something different. Give the coach some help with scouting if necessary but let the coach pick the team and captain.
  • Hockey is marketed poorly – I read a news report that said that TV viewership for hockey games is the highest in India (worldwide). We could use the gaps in the cricket season to increase viewership and interest in hockey but the state of the hockey administration is a stumbling block.

Let’s hope that India beats Argentina and salvages some pride. Even if we don’t, we can take comfort that we’re not as bad as the Pakistanis who came dead last. Schandenfreude is good sometimes.

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