It’s a measure of the decline in the fortunes of Indian hockey that the team, even when playing at home, doesn’t instil much confidence. On Friday, the team started its campaign in the Hockey World league Final at the National Stadium with a 2-0 loss against England.
In the process, India also remained the only team yet to score.
It might be a major tournament for the FIH, but India has nothing to gain from it this time around, except experience and match practice. Unfortunately, the team seemed to have taken the practice bit too seriously. There was a lack of both planning and execution and the players were unorganised.
England got its first goal in the 28th minute through a penalty corner conversion by Adam Dixon and only a combination of some athletic saving from goalkeeper P. R. Sreejesh and bad luck — David Candon’s shots came off the post twice — had denied it till then.
England was fitter, faster and more planned. It made optimum use of the flanks and controlled the pace of the game. Post resumption, the story continued as Dixon added another goal in the 45th minute. Worse, India failed to utilise the few scoring chances and penalty corners it got.
Several Indian players had been struggling to get fit and the lethargy was evident in their game. Even someone like captain Sardar Singh hardly made any impact. There was no cohesion in the attack. Nikkin Thimmaiah, Affan Yousuf, Yuvraj Walmiki were all off-target. On one occasion, Birender Lakra stopped the ball incorrectly during a penalty corner and the resultant goal was cancelled on referral. This was perhaps the best example of coach Terry Walsh’s claim that Indian players need to be educated on the rules.
It wasn’t all negative though. Sreejesh reaffirmed his status as the best in the country with half a dozen saves, including five penalty corners, even when lacking support. Defender Amit Rohidas and midfielder Manpreet Singh, who appeared clueless during the junior World Cup, were back in their elements and had a decent outing. But that was it.
Earlier, Olympic champion Germany made short work of New Zealand to kick off its campaign in the competition with a 6-1 victory.
Highlighting the difference between the two teams, Germany toyed with the opposition. New Zealand goalkeeper Devon Manchester brought about several close saves, else the margin could have been even higher.
In Pool A, Pan-American champion Argentina, the lowest-ranked team in the fray, upset Netherlands 5-2, slamming three goals in 10 minutes. In the opening match of the day, Australia edged past a fighting Belgium 3-2 courtesy a last minute goal by Jacob Whetton.
The results: Pool A: Australia 3 (Kieran Govers 2, Jacob Whetton) beat Belgium 2 (Tom Boon, Thomas Briels); Argentina 5 (Gonzalo Peillat, Facundo Callioni, Pedro Ibarra, Guido Barreiros, Juan Ignacio Gilardi) beat Netherlands 2 (Mink van der Weerden, Seve van Ass).
Pool B: Germany 6 (Thilo Stralkowski 2, Tobias Hauke, Christopher Wesley, Philipp Jan Rabante, Florian Fuchs) beat New Zealand 1 (Kane Russell); England 2 (Adam Dixon 2) beat India 0.
Friday’s matches: Belgium vs Argentina; the Netherlands vs Australia; England vs Germany; New Zealand vs India (8 p.m.).