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What’s next for the Indian hockey team?

India should not be disheartened by its performance in the 2018 World Cup. With the Olympic qualifiers looming ahead, it should start trying out other goalkeepers, says former hockey star AB Subbiah.

brand stories Updated: Dec 29, 2018 13:13 IST
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Let’s not throw away players like we seem to have done with Dipsan Tirkey, says former player AB Subbiah.(Odisha Government)

It’s been tough to get the 2018 World Cup out of the system. Ever since coming back after the final, I have thought about what really went wrong. It would be wrong to say that there were no expectations from the Indian team. Yes, we didn’t win gold at the Asian Games, but the performance didn’t lack anywhere, except for moments in the semi-final game against Malaysia. Japan, the winner of the Asian Games, was beaten 8-0 by India. You don’t get those score lines unless you are really good.

Even in the World Cup, we played well against Belgium in that wonderful comeback match where, after trailing 0-2, we drew the game 2-2. Those were signs that the team was good but just lacked in certain areas.

The first big game outside the Pool was the quarter-final against Holland. That was the first test and we failed. Holland had already been beaten by Germany in the Pool and they had to play a cross-over before meeting us. The Dutch understood the variables in that match better than us. I believe they understood our team better than we understood them. That is where lay the difference. Apart from that, we couldn’t maintain consistency, and with a couple of doubtful selections, we kind of played 20 percent less than what we should have.

It’s the match against Holland that I am convinced we could have easily won. The Dutch wasn’t a strong team at this World Cup, and they were very wary of us. But now that is in the past. We missed a semi-final slot, and in those high-level knockout matches, anything can happen. I believe we threw away a great opportunity. Maybe, the easy matches against South Africa and Canada got to us. A few tougher matches could have kept the engine moving and would have the players thinking more about weaknesses than strengths.

Like in the Belgium match, we lost control over the ball against Holland. The Dutch played within their means on the day. They very well knew that giving us the ball would mean counter-attacks and they always took the ball into the corner. Tactically, I think we played into their hands. It was only when the Dutch scored their first goal that Sreejesh had a look at the ball. In fact, through the match, both the goalkeepers were underutilized. It shows that the ball was being controlled by the Dutch. On top of it, Sreejesh had a bad day as he let in two soft goals; the second one, especially, could have been saved by him. But it’s not right to just point at a player or a group of players. The loss is borne by the fans who really wanted India to win.

The core is already there. With the Olympic qualifiers looming ahead, India needs to try out other goalkeepers. Sreejesh should be retained, but 2-3 keepers should be exposed more in the run-up to the Olympic Games. I think, barring injury and fitness issues, Sreejesh can last till the 2020 Games. In the Champions Trophy and Asian Games, he had a good outing. So, looking at the World Cup and deciding in the negative will not be fair.

Let’s not throw away players like we seem to have done with Dipsan Tirkey. He was the vice-captain of the Junior World Cup winning team and he doesn’t find a place in the core group. He was also the member of the team that won the Asia Cup. He is an exceptional player, and just because he may have been out of form in a few tournaments doesn’t mean we will not persist with him. I hope the team gets a good break and then regroups to chalk out the path for the 2020 Olympics and other important tournaments.

(This article has been authored by AB Subbiah, a former Indian goalkeeper who played the 1994 and 1998 Hockey World Cups)

First Published: Dec 29, 2018 13:08 IST