BANGALORE, — _ Nineteen months have elapsed since an Indian hockey team undertook a tour abroad. The 1986 Willesden World Cup debacle virtually put Indian hockey in deep freeze, as it were.

It was decided not to participate in any International tournament in the light of the Willesden performance, preferring, instead, to stay at home and lick the wounds.

In January this year, India once again took a tentative step onto the International arena at the Indira Gandhi Tournament at Lucknow, only to finish fifth.

The enforced absence from the International circuit evoked mixed reactions. On the one hand, it was argued by the pessimists, and not without some Justification, that considering the “low” standard of Indian hockey international campaigns would only further tarnish our image as a hockey power. Conversely, it was felt by the diehard that the Willesden debacle should be taken into one’s stride and start building, a fresh side for the future, precisely what the Pakistanis, who finished 11th at Willesden, did and are now reaping the rewards.

And so it has transpired that in the year of the Olympics, India has finally decided to come out ‘of her shell. However, it is the players who have been worst affected by this “non-participation policy”. India has already wasted a precious year and a half doing nothing while the other countries busied themselves preparing for the Olympics.

In contrast, India began her preparations only two months ago, after the nationals in Delhi, leaving herself very little time to mauld a match-winning combination.

‘As such, India’s ensuing campaigns at Ipoh and Nairobi should be viewed keeping in mind the above-mentioned factors. Both Coach MP Ganesh and captain Somayya freely admitted that the players are desperately short of international competition. “We could have done wonders had the same set of players. Been chosen immediately after the World Cup instead of merely keeping away from international tournament,” said Ganesh.

Ganesh also rightly said that the Ipoh and Nairobi tournaments would provide the much needed data on the team’s strength and weaknesses.

The three-week camp here at the NIS (South Centre) brought to light some of the team’s inherent weaknesses. In the first place, the team is leaving with ‘out a penalty corner specialist. The trio of full-backs, Pargat Singh, VP Singh and Ashok Kumar, has failed. Second, the midfield play, has been far from satisfactory. Third, the absence of Shahid is definitely felt. Although the present set of forwards look good individually, the cause would be better served with the unquestioned presence of Shahid.

Regarding the penalty corner conversions, there appears little study done on this important fact on the game. None of the fullbacks who take the penalty corner hits, seem capable of variety in their shots to goal, as one witnessed in the just-concluded camp.

In the early practice sessions, a video crew was on hand; recording the proceedings for discussions, but the film crew was not instructed to specially take clips of penalty corner attempts for an analysis later. On the couple of occasions, Sports Authority of India’s hockey consultant and triple Olympian, Balbir Singh, did mention about faulty footwork of the penalty corner hitter.

That was during the selection trial which Balbir witnessed. There is an urgent need to look into basic aspects such as the footwork, timing of hits, balance, and transfer of bodyweight at the right moment or whether too much time is taken to complete the sequence of pushing, stopping and hitting.

Like Pakistan, India, too, has opted for the five-forward formation. The brief flirting with complicated systems is, thankfully over. The team’s performance at Lucknow while adopting the three-forward formation ensured that. The shift to the pyramid system reflects an emphasis on attack. In this regard, the passing and positional play of the forwards still requires considerable toning up. The support from the half-backs, too, was found inadequate. The two center-halves, Subramanian and Vivek Singh, are ‘opposites in style and attitude. Subramanian is basically a destructive and aggressive player, capable of lot of hard work.

But one cannot speak of his prowess at ball distribution in a complimentary manner. The converse is true for Vivek who is very defensive but much better at passing. A player with the right mixture is what the team requires.

Up front, Balwinder Singh has shown good form as center-forward, capable of stunning bursts of acceleration and deft body feints. But his penchant for improvisation and the spectacular needs to be curbed. For Merwyn Fernandes, making a comeback after a three-year absence, the twin tours would be an acid test. Although he has not lost his touch at scheming, he has undeniably slowed down. But, he has been a guiding force behind the team whose forward-line depends heavily on Merwyn’s experience. This is especially so in the absent of Shahid.

Also on trial would be _goalkeeper Rajinder Singh Rawat who was all but written off after the Lucknow tournament. But his experience alone has guaranteed him a berth in the team. The indications are that he will have to do a lot better to keep his place.

‘Among the other forwards, Jude Felix at inside right position, with his performance, has finally convinced the powers that-be that he is an asset to shrewd schemer and a speedy forward, is hailed by the discerning.

‘And, by the look of things, he is a worthy successor to Merwyn. In the past, Jude was reduced to the dubious status of a “one-half player” and his utility to the side was often under-estimated.

Fitness-wise, the team appeared well prepared. At least, no stone was left unturned in this regard. That almost all the players were able to last 90 minutes and play at full pace throughout, is itself a testimony of their overall fitness.

However, it would be churlish to entertain too much hope on this side which is still in the progress of meshing into an effective combination.

Article extracted from this publication >> June 10, 1988