In the two days of the Hero Hockey World League, crowds have been woefully thin, with coaches and players making little attempt to disguise their disappointment about the lack of spectators. The only time in the day the stadium fills somewhat is for the Eight o’clock match featuring India. These few hundreds who brave the evening chill while chanting, clapping and waving the Indian flag are perhaps some of the sport’s biggest supporters in the country. For the second day in a row, however, they would watched their side surrender abjectly.
The result this time – 3-1 in favour of New Zealand – is bad enough. The nature of the performance put forth by the team was for much of the game cringeworthy. You know you have done badly when even the rival coach sounds sympathetic. “You have just got a new coach. India need time to develop their team,” New Zealand’s Colin Batch helpfully suggested after the match.
It’s indeed easy to feel for coach Terry Walsh. He has only been with the team for a few months. He doesn’t have a full-strength squad as several first-choice players are injured. Before the tournament, he had said that his goal for the January 10-18 event would be to see how the team had progressed and to begin implementing new techniques and strategies.
Sardar starts on bench
India’s captain Sardar Singh surprisingly didn’t start the game. It was an attempt to shake up the midfield. There may have been sound logic but the result was that 50 seconds after the first whistle, Shea McAleese sliced the defence open and scored through open play. India could have struck right back in the 3rd minute when consecutive penalty corners were earned. The first one led to the second, which wasn’t even stopped cleanly.
To be fair, India made some interesting plays then on but there was nothing of consequence with the forwards getting bullied by the Kiwi defence. SV Sunil got a good diagonal cross from the left corner in the ninth minute but there was no one to receive the ball. Sardar Singh eventually came on after eight minutes but he was effectively contained by defender Kane Russell. Yuvraj Walmiki and Nikkin Thimmaiah had chances but were unable to control the ball. Indeed, the Indians throughout the game found it hard simply to pass consistently or even trap cleanly. While the forwards errors could be understood to some extent, flubs were made by the defenders even when there wasn’t any pressure on them. Thus New Zealand themselves had a couple of chances created fortuitously. Twenty-two minutes in, Hugo Ingles benefitted after Rupinderpal Singh gave away possession, and with only PR Sreejesh to beat, the Kiwi player shot over the bar. It was only luck that saved India three minutes later when the Black Sticks struck the post with Sreejesh all at sea and Simon Child shooting the resultant rebound wide.
The second half played out much like the first. India showing some ideas, but the plays coming to nothing because of a solid opposition defence and poor finishing of their own. New Zealand meanwhile went 2-0 up in the 41st minute. A cheeky free hit found Stephen Jenness unmarked in the circle and he duly slotted home. India’s best field chance of the game then came and went in the 47th minute. Nikkin did all the hard work in sneaking into the circle from right flank but held possession too long and then shot over the bar with with only keeper Manchester to beat. New Zealand’s lead swelled to 3-0 not long after when Jenness scored again in the 51st minute.
After 138 minutes of scoreless play over two games, India finally scored two minutes from time. VR Raguhnath’s initial hit was blocked by New Zealand keeper Devon Manchester but the rebound went to Mandeep Singh (68) who put India on the scoresheet. The faithful in the stands finally had something to cheer about but coach Walsh knew how bad his team really were. He minced no words. “Our performance was sub-standard and unacceptable. We perform well in training but when it comes to performing under pressure we falter,” he said.
India play their last league game on Monday. Their opponents are Olympic Champions Germany who had thrashed New Zealand 6-1 in their opening game. The way India have played so far, it’s unlikely that the meagre crowd will have much to cheer about then either.
Argentina win again
Argentina continued their giant-killing spree, trailing twice in the match before beating Belgium 3-2. Netherlands recovered from their defeat on the opening day to beat Australia by a solitary goal. It was the first win for Netherlands over Australia since the group stage at the 2004 Olympics. Germany meanwhile were upset 2-1 by World No. 4 England.