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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

‘If you concede seven goals by being defensive, it’s better to be more attacking’

Pakistan hockey legend Hasan Sardar, a gold medal winner at the 1984 Olympics, dissects India's 7-1 loss against Australia: "They're a very good team but need to be tactically smarter."

Written by Hasan Sardar |
Updated: July 26, 2021 11:14:55 am
For India, it was their biggest loss (against Australia) since coach Graham Reid took charge in April 2019. (Twitter/Hockey India)

India is a very good team and I wasn’t expecting this result. The 7-1 scoreline is a surprise. India had an off day. Also, they got it wrong tactically.

If you play against Australia the way you play against teams like Germany, Holland or Belgium, you will suffer. Australia still play with a 5-3-2 formation while attacking and do so with force. They like to take an early lead and then double it to put opponents under serious pressure. And once they have the cushion, they exploit spaces in the opposition half.

India played a defensive game. They should have been aggressive and taken the game to Australia. To draw an analogy, this Australian team plays like the Pakistan of our time – offence is the best defence. If you go on the defensive, you will play into their hands. Also, if you are conceding seven goals by playing a defensive game, it’s better to shun it for a more attacking approach.

For example, India got a free-hit deep into the Australian half, and rather than taking the ball forward, it was played back into their own half to rebuild the attack. That was a waste of an opportunity. India have a good centre-forward, who is goal-hungry. But supply was poor, for the half-line didn’t contribute/penetrate much when India pressed forward. Going ahead, this is an area they must address. The half-line should make its attacking presence felt a lot more.

Be smart

Also, in terms of creating penalty corner opportunities, India should be smarter. Australia got so many penalty corners and India failed to match them. Indian players should be cleverer and more street-smart while dribbling inside the opposition’s D. Inside the D, the golden rule is to do chhota dodges (smaller dibbles) to create penalty corner opportunities. If you keep it that way, defenders are under pressure and there’s always a better chance of the ball hitting the foot. Bada dodge marenge to defenders ka kaam thoda aasan ho jata hai (if you go for a bigger dribble, it makes things slightly easier for the defenders).

Last time, when Pakistan played against Australia in the Champions Trophy, it was an even game because we took the game to them, playing an attacking brand of hockey. We missed a couple of sitters which eventually cost us the game but I liked the way they played. I am not saying that Pakistan is a better team than India. In fact, Indian players are fitter, they have more stamina, they adopted the European style earlier than Pakistan and now are pretty comfortable playing in that style. India has moved ahead of Pakistan.

But tactically, you should be flexible enough to change your game based on the opponents. I don’t remember Germany, Holland or Belgium ever scoring seven goals against India. Only Australia and Pakistan have done that and it was down to their attacking brand of hockey. The biggest problem for Pakistan now is that we don’t have quality forwards. We stayed true to our tradition until the time of Shahbaz Ahmed. After that, as quality declined, we also turned to the European style and our game became defence-oriented.

Lack of talent in Pakistan

Pakistan hasn’t qualified for the Tokyo Olympics and this is painful for me. The lack of consistency is the biggest issue and there’s a dearth of top-class talent. We have one or two world-class players but beyond that we have very little. This has made us inconsistent. There’s not much competition for places at the grassroots, from school to university level. During our time, four-five players used to compete for one spot and it motivated us to work harder and improve our game. Now, if a player is a shade better than the others, he gets into the team.

People ask me if appointing foreign coaches for traditional hockey powerhouses like India and Pakistan is a good idea. I would say, yes. As far as coaching is concerned, they come through a proper system and do their analyses better. Now the game is divided into four quarters and after every quarter, the coaches have the opportunity to look into their laptops and analyse the game based on the data collected. Foreign coaches do this better than us. India has benefitted from appointing foreign coaches. Over the last six to 12 months, they have defeated every team; Holland, Belgium, all of them.

I am confident that India will bounce back after this defeat. They are good enough to do that and have the ability to beat any team in the world.

(as told to Shamik Chakrabarty)

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