Another match, another loss. The story of Indian hockey continues to read dismal as the team caved 1-4 to South Korea in their fourth straight defeat at the Games. There is one more round-robin match to go — against Belgium — but it’s already clear that India are set to finish last in the group of six teams. Till now our worst overall finish at the Olympics has been the eighth placing in Atlanta. This team is set to sink lower.
The match began on an ominous note with the skies rumbling. Ten minutes in, the two teams were level at 1-1 as a Korean penalty-corner conversion had been answered by Gurwinder Chandi’s deflection on a Gurbaj Singh cross. Soon after, the skies opened up. It was as if the wicked deity of sport wanted to bare India’s lack of preparedness down to the bone.
Our men are smaller in physique and muscle girth than European teams. They say
Against the Dutch and Germans our guys were overwhelmed on sheer physicality. Against the South Koreans - who are smaller - that was not supposed to be the case. At least the Asians too aren’t genetically endowed with bigger frames. However, as the pitch got more and more drenched, it became that much difficult physically to play on.
The synthetic-turf grabs onto the soles; it demands that much more heave from the shoulders as the stick drags while executing a shot.
Overall, it is a far more demanding surface than anything natural. Dump too much water on it and it becomes all the more difficult to move on.
One can go on about the sloppy defence and the inept finishing that once again marked this particular encounter. But the problem with Indian hockey is the basic lack of physical fitness to play the sport at this level. “Towards the end of the match, the Indian players were getting really tired and we could feel that. So we decided to attack even harder and give it our all and take advantage of their weakened position,” said Korean defender Jong Hyun Jang.
India coach Michael Nobbs agreed: “On an average, Indian players are still about five kilos lighter than they need to be. It’s a physical sport now and to play the Australian attacking style of hockey which all European teams are now imbibing fast, this team has to get much bigger.”
Then, there is the problem of the seniors not rising to the challenge. Sandeep Singh had a penalty-corner conversion rate of over 80% before the Games. Today he too took four shots, none went through. Shivendra Singh’s form too continues to raise questions.
The bright spark, of course, has been Sardar Singh who displays the kind of commitment and drive that needs to be the norm for the whole team.
“We are creating the openings, the finishing stays the problem. I think it’s more mental than anything else for we are missing sitters at the goalmouth,” said Sardar Singh.
So we don’t have the legs and we don’t have the nerve. Indian hockey is certainly at its nadir as of now.