India’s challenge in Tokyo build-up? Penalty corners
Of the three methods of scoring in a hockey match, the penalty corner is the most popular, and the one that calls for most specialisation.
Though it was introduced in 1908 and has since undergone numerous changes, the penalty corner, or short corner, has emerged the pre-eminent scoring method since the game moved to synthetic turf in the 1970s. PCs have become so important and the penalty corner expert such a vital cog in the scheme of things that players are given elaborate training to get the routine right. Most top scorers in the world have been PC experts—Dutchman Paul Litjens held the record for years with 267 goals in 177 matches before Pakistan’s Sohail Abbas surpassed, scoring 348 goals off 350 matches.
Though drag-flicks have replaced penalty hits, many believe PCs have overtaken field goals as the most popular form of scoring, at times reducing matches to a PC slugfest.
For India, penalty corner conversion has been a real problem for many years, despite having some strong and effective drag-flickers, having taken to it later than other major teams.
In this FIH Series Finals here, India have scored 10 of their 23 goals from penalty corners. They have forced 26 PCs in three games so far—nine in the 10-0 win against Russia, only five in the laboured 3-1 win over Poland and 12 in the 10-0 romp against Uzbekistan on Monday. Just about 44% of India’s goals have come off PCs with rest being field goals. The conversion rate has also fluctuated. Against Russia, India scored four goals off nine PCs, and two off five against Poland. Against Uzbekistan, India converted only four of the 12 penalty corners, a conversion rate of just 30%.
Also, India have not been able to create a lot of penalty corners despite a good rate of entry into the shooting circle. Take for example the matches against Russia and Uzbekistan that ended in 10-0 wins. Against Russia, India made 48 circle entries while scoring four goals off PCs and six field goals. Against Uzbekistan, India had 63 circle entries and 12 PCs. In both matches, India converted only four penalty corners. Thus, in the upcoming games, the Indian team management will have to help overcome this problem by improving both the rate of earning PCs and their conversion.
At Bhubaneswar, India have three penalty corner experts—Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar and Amit Rohidas. Harmanpreet, the most experienced of them, has scored three goals and so has Kumar. Rohidas has contributed two goals while the rest were converted by the forwards off rebounds. Former Australia international Chris Ciriello is the penalty corner expert with the team.
Considering their youth and that not many young drag-flickers are on the horizon, India will have to depend on these three for the task. And they have to fasten their shoe laces and lift their conversion rate.