The talking point during India’s opening match against Australia in the four-nation Olympic test event in London was weak defence. But, commendable job under bar by PR Sreejesh allowed the world champions to score only three goals at the Riverside Stadium Olympic Park on Wednesday.
After putting up a brave front in the opening 15 minutes, and even testing the Australian keeper, India conceded a goal in the 23 minutes. Then, India’s sloppy defence paved way for two penalty corners in the last 10 minutes of the first half. But, thanks to Sreejesh, India survived.
Prior to the squad’s departure for the event, the team management had discussed the issue of porous defence at length.
“Our defenders don’t have sharp reflexes. It’s the weakest link in the team,” an official had told HT. “Since the reaction time of deep defenders is slow, it’s a great disadvantage to the team,” he had added.
In recent times, former India skipper Dilip Tirkey had been the most impressive defender. Tirkey, according to former Olympian Balbir Singh, had sharp reflexes.
“It’s hard to find another player like him these days,” Singh said of the current lot of defenders on Wednesday.
And, it was evident in the match on Wednesday. After initial forays, India struggled to control the ball. Skipper Sardara Singh though did his bit in the middle, but poor finishes by the forwards dashed the team’s hopes of moving the scoreboard in their favour.
India failed to earn a penalty corner in the first half. The scenario wasn’t any different in the second half. On the other hand, Australia, after squandering three penalty corners, converted the fourth in the latter part of the second half.
With India fading away, the world champions tightened their grip. With six minutes left for the long whistle, Australia scored their third goal via penalty stroke.
Despite losing, it was a much-improved performance by India considering they had conceded a dozen goals against Australia in the warm-up game.
Meanwhile, Australia lost a key player for the Olympics after defender Graeme Begbie injured his knee during the match. Hockey Australia said that Begbie tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, having previously been plagued with injury problems in his left knee.