One of the legacies of the Terry Walsh era on Indian hockey has been the confidence with which the team has been taking on the mighty Australians. For far too long, the Indians would quiver at the mention of the Kookaburras. Five-goal margin defeats became a norm. However, the first-ever test series win over Australia last year, and that too at their own backyard, showed how Walsh had systematically solved the Aussie puzzle. Or at least provided solutions to it.
On Saturday, Walsh’s successor Paul van Ass too showed the Australians are not unbeatable. Already out of contention for the final, India produced a dominating performance to beat the defending champions 4-2 in Ipoh. The win helped India secure a place in the third-fourth place playoff, where they will face South Korea on Sunday. Australia, already in the final, will take on trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand.
It was one of India’s best performances against Australia in recent times. Nikkin Thimmaiah (23, 32, 60) scored a hat-trick after VR Raghunath scored the opening goal in the first minute. Daniel Beale (14th) and Matt Gohdes (53rd) were on target for the Australians.
Though it may not be of great relevance in the tournament, the surprise win against Australia early in his tenure would surely boost the confidence of Van Ass. It’s a feat not many of his predecessors have managed. Australia have fielded a balanced squad for the tournament, with the right mix of experienced players and youngsters.
For a team going through a transition, both in terms of players as well as support staff, they had a tremendous start to the tournament, beating Canada 7-0 before netting five goals against South Korea and three each against New Zealand and Malaysia. Defensively, too, they have been strong having conceded just five goals in four matches before they encountered India.
But it is necessary that the team does not get overwhelmed with the win. Van Ass too chose to keep his team grounded. “Let’s not make a big analysis out of this win. The energy was good and I liked that. We can play hockey, we showed that,” the Dutchman said.