SPORT

Is it a confirmation of degeneration of Indian hockey?



S. Thyagarajan

DOHA: Is it an aberration, or yet another confirmation of the degeneration of Indian hockey? Rhetorical though, these posers popped up after China carved out a moment in its history with a 3-2 win over India on Tuesday night.

"It is historic, but I am sad for India," said Els van Breda Vriessman, President of the International Hockey Federation, after witnessing the encounter. Els wondered how China could produce such a result. She reckoned that discipline and determination, backed by excellent coaching, contributed to China's progress. "Their coach, Kim Sang Ryul, is one of the best in the world."

Similar was the refrain from the renowned German coach, Paul Lissek, ever an admirer of Indian skills. Lissek felt the defence opened up too early without assessing the rival's capacity to counter attack. China made three or four sallies, but picked up three goals, when compared to the domination of India, at least in the second half.

Loopholes

A dissection only reveals the loopholes in defence and in the mid-field. The compulsion of playing Ignace and Halappa as centre-half backs exposed the chinks, as were the inadequacies in the deep defence, where the skipper Dilip Tirkey is also proving vulnerable.

Whatever be the logic behind the axing of Viren Rasquinha, the fact remains that the key pivotal area suffers for want of a competent centre half.

Baskaran was speechless, unable to comprehend why the defence was slack, allowing Li Song so much space inside the area. Already under pressure to perform, his fate as coach hangs in balance. Whether the IHF will go for a foreign coach continues to be a mystery.

How much a foreign coach can contribute at this stage of decay is another question. A ham-handed attempt to induct one before the 2004 Olympics flabbergasted many. And the results are there to be seen. A lot of thought needs to go into hiring another foreign coach, if the IHF is really believes that is the panacea.

Flawed selection

Basically, the selection process is flawed. Nowhere do we hear a selected squad tampered on the eve of departure as happened in the case of Viren. Other than shattering the morale of the rest, it does precious little constructively.

More importantly, the IHF, or an expert committee, must debate the efficacy of camps held for months on end making the players more fatigued. Almost in all tournaments, the players look jaded when they saunter in for the opening match.

Coach Ryul is an old hand, trained in India under the late Balkishen Singh at the NIS in Patiala. He had coached the Korean men and women teams for long before moving over to China last year. If anyone knows our strengths and weaknesses he is one.

Touch of satisfaction

Ryul's admiration for Indian hockey once found expression in his desire to coach the national team. But ironically enough on Tuesday, he plotted its defeat, aware of the frailties in defending penalty corners, or improper positioning to meet the free hits.

"My tactics and techniques, paid off," he said with touch of satisfaction.

From the hang of things now, chances of India obtaining a medal of any hue are remote unless it wins against Oman by an imposing margin and take full points against the defending champion, South Korea.

If the team returns empty handed it will again be history. For, India has won a medal in every edition from 1958 when hockey became part of the Games in Tokyo.