MAHABALIPURAM: Whenever Australia face India in men's hockey at the Commonwealth Games — in any international tournament for that matter — it's a grim reminder of the gap that exists between the two nations. That chasm between the two nations once again revealed itself on a sun-kissed blue turf at the University of Birmingham Hockey and Squash Centre on Monday.
The final was effectively over as a contest even before the first 15 minutes had been played. At the end of the first quarter, they were leading 2-0, home, hosed and ready for the medal ceremony. On the other hand, the Men In Blue didn't know how to handle the Green and Yellow train that was steaming up to their attacking circle once every minute. To be honest, unless they could have fielded a few extra bodies to make it a 13 v. 11 or a 14 v. 11, India could have tried everything and would have still finished on the losing side. Because Australia's dominance was so total, so utterly convincing.
They turned on the ignition and pressed the accelerator at pushback. They only released their hold on the accelerator when the hooter went off to signal the end of the match. The goal-scoring began in the ninth minute via Blake Govers and the only surprise with that was it didn't come sooner. They already had a few sights on goal, including from the penalty corner. India defended those but the bodies had already begun to drop, They tried to engineer a few attacking moves but it lacked any conviction. That it came via a penalty corner wasn't surprising, they entered India's striking circle at will and repeatedly kept finding an Indian foot.
The second goal which came five minutes later deflated Indian shoulders. It developed after a failed Indian attack. Australia, who haven't lost a match in this event since 1998, picked up the ball in their own half, and dribbled their way comfortably through opposition traffic before literally walking the ball into an empty net. After the match, former captain Viren Rasquinha came up with the apt line to sum up the match but it could have been a perfect metaphor to describe the second goal. "They got punched in the face," he said.
On Monday, the Indian team, who upgraded their bronze from 2018 to a forgettable silver on Monday, woke up to the news that energetic midfielder Vivek Sagar Prasad would miss the final because of an injury. His passing and energy were a big miss and it showed whenever they attacked. He plays those short, cute give-and-goes and it can catch opponents out.
He's also adept at going long and is press resistant. Without him, they lacked ideas, especially when on the ball. They did have lots of possession — 47 per cent — but what let them down from an attacking perspective was the lack of quality in their passing and creativity.
They frequently overhit or undercooked their passes, especially when they came into Australia's third. By the time Australia were celebrating their seventh and final goal, it all seemed a bit cruel.
That India didn't get a single penalty corner in the match was indicative of this. Considering they had 19 circle penetrations without drawing a single foul, questions ought to be asked about their attacking display.
The immediate question is where do they go from here? With a World Cup at home in a little over five months — something the International Hockey Federation (FIH) may yet move out of the country — it's not quite back to the drawing board but coach Graham Reid will have to take stock of the situation. Since he was appointed coach in May 2019, he hasn't had many chastening experiences like this so he has a lot of goodwill in the bank. Otherwise, too, there will be a temptation to dress this up as a systematic flaw but one can argue that this was a freak result against problematic opponents.
Under the Australian, the team has improved, especially against the elite. What they do in the future will tell whether this is their level or whether they are capable of pressing on against the sport's best at the moment that matter.