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Hockey World League: Focus on keeping possession

On eve of playoff game against Olympic champions Germany, India work on not losing the ball.

New Delhi | Updated: January 17, 2014 10:35:42 am
After losing all but one of their games, India play Germany in a classification match on Friday at the National Dhyan Chand Stadium (PTI) After losing all but one of their games, India play Germany in a classification match on Friday at the National Dhyan Chand Stadium (PTI)

Over the course of the Hero Hockey World League, one word  you realise India coach Terry Walsh uses a lot is ‘physiology’. It invariably finds its way in nearly every answer to questions  which invariably are on why his side is losing. While Walsh is a firm believer in the fact that tournaments like the Hero Hockey World League are important for the side to play quality opponents, shock results are not to be expected simply because the physiology  of the team isn’t of world standards.

So India, against bigger and stronger teams India has come out on the receiving ends of poor results. Defeats to England and New Zealand were followed by a draw against Germany.

Walsh’s theory probably would have got a few more backers after the quarterfinal game against Australia. The hosts had taken a 2-0 lead against the overwhelming favourites before eventually running out of steam and receiving a 7-2 hammering. Walsh has said that the team will take several months to achieve that standard but he obviously didn’t have that kind of time before the side’s next game.

In a battle for the minor placing India play Germany once again. But with an eye that his players will be unlikely to match the World No. 1 team physically, Walsh in a practice session on Thursday, attempted an alternate solution. So on a half pitch, he had a mix of forwards, midfielders and defenders attempt to pass the ball amongst each other, without doing too much running. Another mix of  defenders, midfielders and forwards attempted to steal the ball. Walsh wasn’t expecting stylish passes, the point of the exercise was simply to keep the ball rotating between players without anyone coming under too much pressure. He only wanted them to do it for 45 seconds after he blew his whistle.

With the defending side not really attempting to tackle with anything like the intensity shown by some of their international opponents it seemed like a fairly reasonable In actuality, it took the players a number of tries before they managed to break the 45 second mark. They eventually managed it a few times and Walsh looked pretty happy about it.

Now these are a group of athletes trained specifically to trap and pass a hockey ball to each other and occasionally put it through a goal. But at least in the initial parts of the exercise, for every ten clean passes or so, there would be one where possession was lost. Either the pass would be too far from a receiver, or the pass would simply not get stopped. It was surprising.

While modern hockey will always have place for stylish stickwork, it surely must place a value on avoiding unforced errors.  Walsh may be particularly concerned about his sides physiological level he wants them to but the mistakes some of his players make in basic facets for the game will probably be as worrying.

For Friday’s game, India face an opponent caught in a strange situation. The German coach made it very clear ahead of the tournament that they were coming in with no outdoor practice. They seemed to bely that underconfidence with a 6-1 hiding over New Zealand, but have been underwhelming ever since. A 2-1 loss to England was followed by what must clearly be a disappointing  3-3 draw against the hosts and then a 2-1 quarterfinal defeat to arch rivals Netherlands. The first half of the game against Netherlands was full of unforced errors. There recent form will perhaps give India some hope of going one better than the time two teams clashed in the league stage.

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