India coach, Michael Nobbs, wore a big smile on Sunday. His boys had played to a game-plan and surprised South Africa in the fifth and final test. Down 0-3, India stuck to their strategy, and it helped them make a dramatic comeback to finish 3-3 at the National Stadium.
With series already clinched, Nobbs utilised the match to test the mental strength of his players.
“We wanted to test the mindset of the players --- whether they'd perform under pressure or wilt. It worked. Conceding three goals in the first half was also part of the bigger plan,” he said.
India's defence was feeble in the first half and even the forward line lacked sting. But the contest got exciting as the home team put more pressure on the rivals to restore parity in the second session.
The experiment over, Nobbs now has the more challenging task of preparing the team for the Olympic qualification tournament, which begins on February 18.
“We will continue with the national camp and work on the shortcomings,” he said.
The coach also expressed satisfaction over Yuvraj Walmiki's performance. “It was good,” he said, hinting that Walmiki would figure in his scheme of things in the future.
But former skipper Rajpal Singh, who was also making a comeback, has been ruled out of the next phase of the camp and the Olympic qualifying event.
“He (Rajpal) needs to improve a lot. It might take a few more months for him to regain total fitness. We have his replacement in SV Sunil. Hope he does a good job,” the coach observed.
Of the 44 players in the camp, Hockey India (HI) will prune the number to 32 for the next phase, which will commence at the National Stadium from February 1.
India - 3 (Yuvraj Walmiki 43, VR Raghunath 49, SK Uthappa 66)
South Africa - 3 (Ricky West 26, Ian Haley 31, Miguel Da Graca 34)