Any hint of a panegyric will be tantamount to exaggeration on India’s performance so far in the Azlan Shah hockey tournament. It is difficult to quantify the quality. Patchy, is probably the appropriate epithet. A pragmatist that he is, Michael Nobbs, is least amused. He is stupefied by the pathetic second half displays in both matches. India was overwhelmed by the velocity and vibrancy of the Kiwi attack in the opening match. It conceded three goals in this phase.
Again it almost settled for a draw after allowing Korea to build up enormous pressure in the second phase. Only that dramatic goal by Uthappa saved the day. It is the only shining moment up till now. Understandably, it is too early to pronounce a verdict about a podium finish. But if the current trend continues the podium will be a mirage.
It can safely be said that India has the strength to reach the podium. That rests on how the shortcomings are overcome by putting into effect the strategies planed. India’s goal tally stands at three -- one each by Shivendra, Sandeep Singh and Uthappa. The fault line is with the attack. So far the forwards have been inconsistent, individualistic and without inept. They need not score but strive for penalty corners for Sandeep to do.
Sandeep had taken only one shot from the three India secured so far. He was on the bench when the team cornered two against the Kiwis. Sardar, Birendra Lakra and Kothajit are notable for their persistence. Gurbaj Singh, rested for the opening match, is yet to regain his poise. Mandeep and Dharam Vir endeavoured hard to keep the forwards with fair supply of passes as did Danish Mujtaba.
The goal keepers, Chetri in particular, have shown athleticism in their work. In fact, Chetri was instrumental for India’s win against Korea. The top three in the frontline—Shivendra, Sunil and Tushar-have proved insufficient. So too is Yuvaraj Walmiki. Unless the forwards shed their inhibitions and inject a filament of fluency the rate of success is bound to diminish.
Of the rest, New Zealand is on the right track. Undefeated in two matches and with an impressive tally of goals, the Kiwis are firmly ensconced. A trophy triumph for them is not merely a pipe dream. Sean McLeod and his men richly deserve it before the London Games.
Malaysia’s gamble to cash in on the euphoria of the junior team’s Asian Cup victory and capping seven players in the senior level is paying rich dividends. Faisal Saari is the star. His brace in a space of two minutes that forced Britain to share points made him an icon. Two drawn games against Britain and Korea are a no mean achievement for Malaysia.
With a solitary point from an unexpected draw from the opening game, it is premature to envisage Britain’s progress. It, indisputably, a heavy weight team and is not the one to lose its course. While Pakistan began well flattening Argentina, the displays of the Pan-American champion and Korea baffle many. How fortunes may swing from tomorrow is unpredictable.
Meanwhile, in a regrettable development, the Media officer, Satwant Dhaliwal, has quit consequent an altercation with a Malaysian coach over seating in the media box. The coach insisted on sitting in the reserved media area citing the chairs were unoccupied. Finding the official response indifferent to his complaint, Mr. Dhaliwal stepped down. With some tact the incident could have been avoided. In the end, it has left a bitter taste among the national and international media personnel, who are here for the event.