The bitter taste of silver

Published on Aug 08, 2022 11:34 PM IST

Woefully inadequate India crash to a 0-7 defeat against Australia in the final of the men's hockey event.

Indian players react after the end of the men's hockey final match between India and Australia, at the Commonwealth Games 2022 (CWG), in Birmingham, Monday, Aug. 8, 2022. India lost 0-7.(PTI)
Indian players react after the end of the men's hockey final match between India and Australia, at the Commonwealth Games 2022 (CWG), in Birmingham, Monday, Aug. 8, 2022. India lost 0-7.(PTI)
ByRutvick Mehta, Birmingham

“If you grab a positive out of it,” Graham Reid, the expression hardly reflecting the statement, said, “is that we’ve got four months to the World Cup. We’ll be analysing a lot and a lot of that would be talking about what happened today.”

So, here’s what happened on the day.

India turned up for the hockey men’s gold medal match on the final day of the Commonwealth Games hoping to fight for gold. It was hardly a fight, the hope not even given time to kick in.

Australia, the undisputed and unchallenged CWG champions in men’s hockey, gave the kind of hiding that couldn’t escape the satisfaction of the silver medal, which is still an improvement for the Indian team from the fourth place four years ago.

India lost 7-0, a scoreline that summed up the performance. From the first minute till the last, the Aussies ran the Indians ragged, pumped in goals at will and thwarted the trickling leaks that India had on their goal. Their leader Manpreet Singh was physically battered, every single one of his troops mentally bruised. As the hooter went off, Indian players strolled back, faces gloomy and bodies drenched. Hardly like the 2022 CWG silver medallists.

“One of the tough parts of silver is that you lose gold and when you win bronze, you win it,” Reid said. “I was disappointed about the performance. We didn’t play to plan. If you want to play and beat Australia, you have to play at your best and we just weren’t.”

Nowhere close. From the moment of the pushback, Australia controlled the ball. The goals came thick and fast—in the 7th minute (Blake Govers), the 14th (Nathan Ephraums), the 22nd (Jacob Anderson), the 26th (Tom Wickham), the 27th (Anderson), the 42nd (Ephraums) and the 46th (Flynn Ogilvie). Two of these were from penalty corners but the other five through exposing the gaping holes in the Indian half that started from the midfield and went all the way up to PR Sreejesh’s toes.

“Andar mat aane dena (don’t let them come in)”, Sreejesh repeatedly kept howling. Exactly what his defenders couldn’t do, especially from one side of the field that the Australians found pockets of large spaces to dribble across half, dodge past to get into the D and fire away.

Reactive hockey

Reid termed it reactive hockey, which he felt England were at the receiving end of when India played them in the group stage and dictated the game before allowing them to claw back for a draw. “The plan was to not give them room and try and dictate our style of play rather than theirs. We were just reacting the whole game, and that was part of the issue,” he said.

Which also meant India’s playmakers and forwards were never in play (the team missed midfielder Vivek Sagar Prasad who picked up a knee injury). India did not earn a single penalty corner in the match and had just five shots on goal. Australia, constantly having a go at the other end, had 23.

“We gave them time which makes it more difficult from the back to get in front. Every time we got in (their circle), there was someone on us in our attack. They were getting in front of us,” Reid said. “We did not have enough energy. With Australia you need to go out and put pressure on them and not give them time.”

Manpreet, who injured his shoulder during a clash in the second quarter and said he was awaiting scans to confirm a fracture, felt the team will need to work on moving the ball up against a team like Australia, which is more likely to call the shots against most teams on their day.

“Their tactic today was to crowd the side where the ball was. Our ball rotation should have been better. So, we could have pressured them from the other side,” he said. “We need to work on moving the ball up when we are under pressure from their players. And when we enter their D, we need to create opportunities.”

Make no mistake, Australia do not give an inch in these big games, especially when it comes to the CWG. They haven’t conceded a single goal in the final since 2002. At the 2010 CWG, they beat India 8-0 and again 4-0 in Glasgow. The pattern has a more recent touch too—Australia beat India 7-1 in a pool match of the Tokyo Olympics last year.

Reid, a former Australian player himself who understands the psyche of his country’s breed, felt a trip to their den before the World Cup would probably help make a dent to the intimidation factor that plays out often when India take on Australia.

“I don’t think our guys are afraid of it (playing Australia), but that’s perhaps the underlying and unconscious thing behind it,” he said. “But to break something like that you perhaps have to desensitize yourself to it. The HIL (Hockey India League) did that, when our players played besides these guys every match.”

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