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Reverse against France cause for concern in loaded year

India's high press is the way to play modern hockey but it does come with significant risks. If teams find an out ball to bypass the press, they can find significant joy on the counter.

Published: 15th February 2022 12:22 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th February 2022 09:02 AM   |  A+A-

Hockey Stick

For representational purposes (Photo | PTI)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: The next 12 months is perhaps very critical if the men's hockey team is to reap the benefits of the bronze medal at the Olympics. With three important events lined up — Commonwealth Games (July), Asian Games (September, doubling up as Olympic qualifier) and World Cup (January 2023) — further wins will help define the legacy of Graham Reid's reign.

That home stretch towards another home World Cup began in earnest in the Pro League (PL) at Potchefstroom over the last week. A near full-strength Indian team racked up the goals against the hosts over two legs but the matches offered a further indication of a perennial Achilles Heel: a lack of patience. They lost the return leg against France 2-5 and one only had to listen to Gregg Clark, the team's analytical coach. During a short briefing after the third quarter (India were trailing 1-2 at this point), he was stressing the virtues of patience to a team that went in search of scoring without any set structure.

The South African support staff used the 'patient' as many as four times in the one minute debrief. "Just stay patient, you will get one chance to stick into their goal. Just stay patient out there." In the next 15 minutes, India had the ball but France picked them off on the break and scored three more goals to emerge 5-2 winners.

What changed between the first (5-0 win) and the second match (2-5 loss) against France? According to French captain, Gaspard Baumgarten, they studied the video of the first game to right their wrongs. "Did great work on video," he told the organisers after the match. "We tried to analyse what went wrong and tried to play a better defensive game… we were fantastic."

That is true. India's high press is the way to play modern hockey but it does come with significant risks. If teams find an out ball to bypass the press, they can find significant joy on the counter. This is essentially what France managed to do in the second match. Even if India's proactive hockey meant they had the better underlying metrics — more shots on goal (9 to 12),  circle penetrations (20 to 29) and penalty corners (4 to 10) — a lack of composure in France's defensive third as well as allowing them an outball lost them the match. The high press and clinical finishing from set pieces was the foundation that gave them an Olympic medal but the France match is a template to other sides that India’s press can be countered.

It will be interesting to see if India, who will face bigger tests in the PL in the weeks and months ahead, tweak their press to give them better safety at the back. The next batch of games against Spain (February 26, 27) and Germany (March 12, 13), both of them better teams than South Africa and France (No 13) according to the rankings, in Bhubaneswar will offer more clues.


Results: February 8: India 5-0 France; Feb 9: India 10-2 South Africa; Feb 12: India 2-5 France; Feb 13: India 10-2 South Africa. 



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