CHENNAI: JUST before leaving for the tri-nations invitational tournament, skipper Manpreet Singh opined that the four games in Dusseldorf will give the team an opportunity to assess where they stand before the World League Semifinal. “We will be able to assess our performances and get ready for the bigger challenge in London,” he had said.
On the evidence of the last week, they will need to do more if they are to get battle ready for London (the tournament starts from June 15). Even if the four matches, for all practical purposes, were glorified friendlies, the Men In Blue’s results were on expected lines — an odd win, two losses and a draw. It once again reiterates the fact that while India are world-class against lesser-ranked teams, their inconsistency and failure to win the big moments costs them against higher-ranked ones. At the Sultan Azlan Shah, they had Australia on the mat for the entirety of the first half but a profligacy in front of goal let them down. They were leading 1-0. They lost it 1-3.
A similar scene played out against Germany in their second match on June 3. After going a goal down, they showed character to score two in a minute to lead the Olympic bronze medalist. However, with the Indian team, the back door is always never shut. And that proved to be the case as Tobias Hauke popped up with the equaliser with eight minutes remaining. But it seems as if they keep making the same mistakes over and over again. That’s an obvious problem with three — World League Semifinal, Asia Cup and the World League Final — events lined up in the next six months.
Former India captain, V Bhaskaran, agrees. “The inconsistency is a problem,” he said. “People might say it’s just a friendly but I do consider them important. This kind of tournaments gives the coach and support staff an opportunity to learn about the team. One can only hope that the team has learnt from this experience.” SV Sunil, still an integral component of the side, also came in for some criticism.
“He has now played at both Sultan Azlan Shah as well as this tournament but he hasn’t delivered goals. He is a good player but for forwards, they will have to keep scoring. Otherwise, the pressure falls on midfielders and the drag-flickers.” There is some truth in that statement. The explosive forward has played 10 matches this year and has scored only once (in the third-fourth play-off against New Zealand in Malaysia).
But one cannot be too harsh on the side that is in the midst of a transition at the moment. Chief coach Roelant Oltmans, apart from bringing on board a few of the World Cup-winning youngsters, has revamped the entire coaching set-up. They are also without regular skipper and talisman PR Sreejesh. So, implementing training ground moves and ideas will take time. “At London, India have a chance to ease into the tournament because they play Scotland first. With points on the board, I can see them finishing in the top three.”
With Netherlands, England and Argentina in the mix, that’s a bold claim.