Emotions are good, barked out Roelant Oltmans just before the players walked out, but not at the cost of gameplan. For far too long, strategies have had no place on the field whenever India met Pakistan. Amidst the hype, the players have often ended up playing to the gallery. It has cost India wins; most recently during the 2014 Champions Trophy semifinals.
Oltmans’ words were similar to Shoiab Akhtar’s summation of Pakistan’s cricket team’s woes against India. The former paceman, too, rued the fact that they got carried away merely by the prospect of playing India in major ICC events. On Sunday, as Pakistan executed their gameplan to the T for their biggest win over India in ODIs, a few kilometres away from The Oval – at London’s Olympic Park – the Indian hockey team stuck to theirs for a record 7-1 win over the Greenshirts in the Hockey World League Semifinals.
The result showed how much Indian hockey has come of age. But it also served a stark reminder of the freefall the Pakistani team has been in the last few years. You could have guessed just how poor the standard of this side is by the fact that they were hammered 6-0 by Canada on Friday. The manner in which India swatted the North Americans on Saturday only magnified Pakistan’s problems.
Historically, though, they have somehow mustered enough courage to trouble India. The early exchanges on Sunday hinted at another courageous, defying-all-odds Pakistan performance. Inside the opening five minutes, they entered the Indian circle twice, earned a penalty corner and nearly took the lead.
Till a couple of years ago, India would have crumbled under such relentless pressure. The gameplan would have been thrown out of the park, resulting in a straight up, gloves off, fistfight that would end with the battle-hardened Pakistan emerging victorious. But not on Sunday. When pushed back, India absorbed pressure and did not lose their structure. It frustrated Pakistan, who had nothing to show despite making all the early moves. Gradually, errors crept into their game and the moment cracks surfaced in their shape, India pounced upon them. “We had studied them and practised accordingly. Our aim was to execute the plans and not get excited,” drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh said.
After those initial 10 minutes, India played a brand of hockey that asserted their position as Asia’s best and showed a streak of ruthlessness that is seldom associated with them. Harmanpreet (13′, 33′), Talwinder Singh (21′, 24′) and Akashdeep Singh (47′, 59′) scored a brace each while Pardeep Mor netted one in the 49th minute. These were field goals worked out with clockwork precision.The coordination was almost telepathic as that they did not even have to look up while passing. Talwinder’s 21st minute goal and Akashdeep’s one-two with Sardar in the 47th minute are a couple of examples.
In the last 18 months, India have come up with something new every time they have played. So far, they have conjured up slick goal-scoring patterns with precise movement off-the-ball. Whether India can execute these moves with similar accuracy against better organised teams remains to be seen. It had Pakistan on the ropes, though, for almost the entire duration of the match. Against Scotland and Canada, the team took its foot off the gas after consolidating their lead. On Sunday, though, they were merciless. They did not let their hearts rule. Just for that, Oltmans would have been a happy man.