Missing the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup final must have been disappointing for the Indian hockey team. It had finished as runners-up last year and could have bettered the result by winning the tournament. Instead, they finished third and had to be satisfied for the bronze medal.
After the crucial loss against Malaysia which saw India fail to qualify for the final, coach Roelant Oltmans said that he is never disappointed with the result but he is disappointed with the performance. And that is exactly what he wanted to see.
The curtain-raiser for the international calendar, Azlan Shah is a tournament where most teams send a younger, experimental squad, mostly to test the bench strength.
India too did the same by including five players from the junior World Cup winning squad and two new faces in the team. They did well to finish third but could have reached the final and even won it had they not faltered under pressure.
Against Malaysia, playing for a spot in the final if they beat them 2-0, India suffered a 1-0 loss. While they went for an all out attack in final quarter, they did not take their chances in the first three quarters.
Apart from a few minutes of domination in the second quarter, India could not control the game. They did not get any penalty corner as late as the 18th minute. But they failed to convert it and every other corner they got later in the match.
Even in the earlier matches, the performance was not up to par. Against Japan, who are ranked 16th in the world, India won 4-3.
The 2-2 draw against Great Britain was another bad result for India. After taking the lead twice in that match, they allowed Britain to make a comeback and draw the game. They won against New Zealand but then suffered a big loss against Australia.
The inconsistent performance by the Indian team should be a cause of worry for the management. Though it was not a ranking tournament and experiment was the main focus here, there were moments where India looked an ordinary team. The loss to Malaysia being the perfect example.
But with the Azlan Shah done and dusted, India should focus on the two upcoming tournaments. The three-national Invitational Tournament in Germant and later the Hockey World League Semi-Final in London, both in June.