Sunday’s training looked more like an extension of previous night’s tragedy. There were gloomy faces, some words being muttered under their breath. It was a body language of a team that was unhappy and embarrassed. After an uncharacteristic fight they showed against Australia, India, on Saturday, had surrendered meekly to an English team that is the least threatening among the seven countries who’ve travelled to India for the World League Final.
The 3-2 score-line might suggest it was a close encounter but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Reverting to their old ways of trying to dodge a player, India were on the back-foot throughout and but for an inspiring play by captain Manpreet Singh and drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh in the fourth quarter, the scoreline would’ve been far more embarrassing.
It wasn’t the first time Marijne saw the team deviate from his game-plan. In October’s Asia Cup, India were held by a lowly South Korea after they played an identical game like they did against England.
So under the bright Bhubaneswar sun, the players formed a circle on the centre of the pitch, with coach Sjoerd Marijne standing in the centre. They were split in two groups of nine and in each half, they were made to practice the same drill for the subsequent one hour. The task looked straightforward – pass and play. Like Saturday, however, India fluffed it.
On one end, Manpreet would feed the ball to SK Uthapa from centre to the right flank. Uthapa, with his second touch, would
push it inside the ‘D’ to Lalit Upadhyay, who’d square it for striker Mandeep Singh. But Mandeep couldn’t trap or score. Uthapa, at times, took more than a touch to control the ball while Upadhyay’s final pass lacked range.
Marijne’s philosophy of give-and-go hockey may be attractive and effective. But its execution needs high level of skills – first touch, trapping and passing being the basics. In an interview to this paper last month, Marijne had said the performances like the one against South Korea was more because of the technical skills than the tactics.
“If the skills are not good, we cannot play this. That’s what you saw at Asia Cup against South Korea, our skills were not good. Basic skills like trapping and passing,” Marijne said. “So we cannot put speed in the game. They (players) can run 100,000 times left and right but we will not find the space like that. So it is not the tactics, it was the technical skills.”
On Sunday, Marijne insisted Indian players possess the skills. “But you need to do play like this regularly to make it a habit,” he said.
There weren’t the usual attacking and defensive drills, just passing. Whether the team implements it on Monday against Germany is something even the coach cannot predict. The matches between India and Germany have usually been high-scoring ones, with an average of almost four goals per match. But they’ve often ended in favour of the Olympic bronze medalists.
However, with Germany going through a transitional phase, the young Indian side will fancy its chances although it depends on which Indian side turns up on the night – the one that surprised Australian with its passing and pace, or the side that couldn’t string even two passes against England.
To ensure it’s the former, India trapped and passed for 60 minutes until the forwards beat the goalkeepers without any errors. Scoring goals, even during train, can lift the team’s morale. So by the time the training ended, India were a happy bunch again.
So the team decided to take the mickey out of their captain. As they walked back to the dugout, Manpreet has pulled aside for an interview by the broadcasters. At 5’4”, Manpreet is one of the shortest players on the Indian team and he was being interviewed by Australian team player Anna Flanagan, who at 6-foot plus is among the tallest woman players.
After mocking him from the sidelines, Rupinder passed an ice-bucket for him to stand on. Manpreet walked away, embarrassed, while the rest, including Flanagan, couldn’t hold back their laughter. It was the only time the team appeared relaxed this afternoon. Whether they leave the pitch smiling on Monday remains to be seen.
5:30pm: Australia vs England
7:30pm: India vs Germany