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Always in their slipstream

Australia defend Commonwealth Games hockey gold after a 4-0 thrashing of India in the final.

Written by Chinmay Brahme | Glasgow | Updated: August 4, 2014 2:37 pm
Four years ago at the same stage, Australia had beaten India 8-0 at the National Stadium in New Delhi.  (Source: Reuters) Four years ago at the same stage, Australia had beaten India 8-0 at the National Stadium in New Delhi. (Source: Reuters)

While the Australians bounded out swiftly on to the field at the Glasgow National Hockey Centre, the Indians straggled out one player at a time. The difference in energy before the final was apparent and as the Australians got into a huddle, there were stray groups of Indian players holding their own personal strategy sessions.

Once the match was over, a thunderstorm shook the National Hockey Centre, rain and gusts of strong wind pelting down. As the Australians enjoyed a celebratory lap after meting out a 4-0 thrashing, the white and saffron shirted Indians seemed to be getting a sharp dressing down from their Australian coach, Terry Walsh.

Not one single head bobbed up as Walsh gesticulated, illustrated and at times held his head in his hands. It had been an abject display from India. The surrender had been all too meek and the refreshing fight back against New Zealand it seemed had just been a false dawn.
Australia scored their first goal after 13 minutes, added a second 16 minutes later and then finished off the match with goals in the 48th and the 51st minute. While the first three goals all came off penalty corners scored by Chris Ciriello, the fourth goal laid bare India’s defensive frailties. It looked as if the entire defence had gone to sleep as Kieron Govers stole in near the striking circle, unnoticed and slipped a pass to Eddie Ockenden who only had to tap into an unguarded net to complete the rout.

The first half had seen two Australian goals and a lot of shabby Indian defending. Rupinder Pal Singh, the centre-half, who had been the highlight of India’s performance had a poor 35 minutes. He hadn’t started too well, scooping the ball straight to an Australian attacker just 25 yards from the Indian goal, instead of passing the ball along the carpet to three Indians waiting in close proximity.

The passing over the course of the match went from average to inexplicable. While the Australians looked to pass the ball to the nearest player in a forward position, India’s raids into the Aussie half invariably ended with the ball being pulled back into their own half. Off the ball running, something India did brilliantly against New Zealand, was non-existent against Australia. The regular dose of overtly hopeful scoops and desperate hits into the Aussie circle saw Walsh give a serious beating to the water cooler near the dugout, undoubtedly giving him fodder for his rebukes post the match.

After his admonishment session was over, Walsh did not seem to have lost any of his anger. “It was a poor performance. Barring two players, I think a lot of players underperformed. My midfield was poor and so were my strikers. I don’t think we managed to create one clear-cut chance and if that’s the case in international hockey, then you have a problem,” he said.

Interestingly, India’s midfield had been bolstered by the presence of their skipper, Sardar Singh, returning from suspension. However, Sardar was often guilty of slowing the game down and played far too many back-passes while also conceding possession. His younger compatriot, Manpreet Singh, though enthusiastic could not keep pace with Australia’s effective and swift ball movement, often finding himself behind the pace and having to resort to risky slides and desperate flings of his stick to get near the ball.

Though Walsh conceded that India did not have as much recovery time as they would have liked, playing just 22 hours after beating New Zealand in the semi-final, he said there was no excuse for the passages of casual play that India put out. “We were down on energy. Australia were simply all over us. They are physiologically better than us, we still have a long way to go if we have to become as fit as them but you expect your team to be sharp for the final match of a tournament,” he said.

Australia won their fifth consecutive gold medal, keeping their stranglehold over Commonwealth Games men’s hockey intact. India settled for a second consecutive silver, but the performance was littered with defensive mistakes and some thoughtless passing, while their general indifference towards the game would be sure to raise a number of eyebrows and give rise to multiple concerns.

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