Having seen India in action from close quarters - in their 5-2 victory over my Malaysian team — I must say I was very impressed with their game on Monday. They created opportunities and took them very well, making better moves than us in the forward line.
This is not surprising since I have always maintained that India have the potential to be big winners; it is just that sometimes the players are unable to finish off the moves they make or assert their authority more on a match.
They had a lot of things going for them in their match against us, and we knew that they would be motivated to play better after their 1-4 loss to Australia on Sunday. Apart from that, we had a tough game on Sunday against South Korea and that took its toll on our young players. But I do not want to take anything away from the Indians. The finishing was much better than us, and players like Gagan Ajit Singh, Arjun Halappa, Tushar Khandhar, Shivender Singh and Tejbir Singh were moving well in unison, creating spaces. There are still some areas where they need to improve, especially in passing the ball inside the D. They also did not use the extra space along the flanks as well as they might have liked to.
For us, India's show after their big defeat to Australia should serve as inspiration. However, I'm sure they can only get better. I can see that coach V Baskaran has got them to take shots at the goal and also to get the ball quickly into the D, and this caused us a lot of troubles.
But the fitness of the Indian team is suspect, and they will have to build up on that aspect for the World Cup. Players from teams like South Korea run throughout the game and always cause big threats to you, even when you are playing your best. Another good aspect of the Indian team was that the midfield players — with VS Vinay, Vikram Pillay and Prabodh Tirkey — worked very hard to stamp their mark. However, Vinay, Pillay and Tirkey must get more consistent with their play and endeavour to keep on pushing further up so that the forwards are well complemented. That managed to do that today, and it is good to see the team taking a much forward approach in their play.
We were let down in some ways by our defence, which did not get through to the passes quickly enough. As I said the other day, speed is essential when you want to play attacking hockey. The quicker you get the ball out of the danger area, the better you can plan your moves. In this respect Dilip Tirkey was a steadying influence at the back and Kanwalpreet Singh gave good support to him.
And, of course, their goalkeeper Adrian D'Souza was a big asset. He has the knack of playing well against Malaysia — he stopped no less than five penalty corners attempts by us today.
I think we need to see India play with this confidence more often, and then they can only get better. I think India's match against South Korea is going to be a closely fought affair. If India can withstand the attacks of the fitter Koreans and stop their fast play, they would have a good chance of winning. After all, a semi-final berth is at stake. Senior players like Gagan, Dilip, Vikram, Prabodh, Viren Rasquinha, Arjun and Kanwalpreet must take the lead against the Koreans.
(Malaysian captain S Kuhan will write an exclusive column during the Azlan Shah Cup).