By Glen Mathew In Bombay

THE disaster at the London World Cup and the setback at Seoul late last year and the performance in the Indira Gandhi Memorial Tournament at Delhi this year need serious introspection, not merely as part of the witch-hunts which normally follow such debacles, but because a fresh look needs to be given to the Indian approach to the game of hockey, or else we will continue in the same vein, to our continued doom.

Our last few tournament wins were the 1980 Moscow Olympics and before that the 1975 World Cup at Malaysia. In between we have fared well in the odd tournament and even won an excitingly close quadrangular in the Gulf.

However, on a closer analysis we will observe that the Moscow Olympics had only Spain as a major contender (the USSR then was just emerging as a major hockey playing nation), thus our only major tournament win in the last few years has been the 1975, World Cup. Unthinkable for a supposedly major hockey playing nation!

The “reversed” standings at the London World Cup were the final nails in the coffin of our former style of play. To think that India would prop the pool in a major tournament was heresy some time back. If we were to analyses the matches seen on television, we would observe how much hockey has changed from our traditional style of play. Most of the other nations play a similar brand (other than India and Pakistan) and this is what we have been casting a blind eye to.

So what ails Indian hockey? Is it style? Tactics? Physical fitness? Preparation? Coaching? Diet? Equipment? Or what? Perhaps it is a combination of factors. Let’s examine these in detail, beginning with style of play.

Since the Moscow Olympics, when coach Balkishen Singh had the foresight to modify the team formation to a 1334 from the normal 1235, we have had’ a better run of play in tournaments.

It was the West German hockey coach, Horst Weiner, who expounded upon several anomalies into he Indian style of play way back in the seventies. The 1235 pattern had the full backs marking the inside forwards who” were expected to move the length of the field, the wing halves had to initiate attacks and mark the opponent’s wingers and the center half, considered the pivot of the team, had to mark the opposing center forward the center of the attack!

Thus the formation was riddled with inconsistencies and the change to the 1334 was progressive and good.

However, there still is scope for further improvement and this is, perhaps, the main reason for the success of Australia. The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), England and the Netherlands. The last three play with a “sweeper” behind a back line of three; this player marks no player in particular but sweeps any through ball or tackles any player who breaks through — prime examples of such players are Paul Barber of England and Fischer of West Germany.

This is one reason why ball jugglers do not often penetrate massed defenses Shahid is one such example, which dribbles too much and is easily dispossessed. In fact if we analyses video tapes of the Indian matches, we will observe that there are invariably five players within the Indian “D” with at least one of the inside forwards waiting nearby for a pass. Thus a switch to a sweeper system will not be a radical change.

A change, however, for the better it will be. Curiously enough, Pargat Singh will make an ideal sweeper in today’s game: speedy, incisive and capable of setting up an attack, if need be on his own. While M.P. Singh or Vineet Kumar can admirably fill in the center back positions, the wing backs can be players in the mould of Joaquim Carvalho.

As for players to fill in the intermediate line we have plenty: Hardeep Singh for the center spot with Somaiya and Abdul Aziz for the wing positions. The front three would ideally consist of a winger, such as Thoiba or Taken, a ball player like Shahid and an out and out striker like Hassan Sardar! Not that schemer like Marcellus Gomes cannot find ‘a berth in today’s lineup, in the absence of an effective center for ward, we will need his type. In fact all the front runners need to have the ability to score goals, today among our forwards, how many can boast of this? Even against Hong Kong in the Asian, it was Shahid who scored some seven goals, more than half the total. What happened to the others?

As for Australia, one will have observed that Charlesworth had a free role, in that he could roam wherever he wished and, more often than not, was found in midfield. And, with a more or less static center half, the team formation was usually 12143 with the sweeper role being played by the right back if the ball was in the left side of the field and vice versa.

So much for that style. Now tactics.

How many times have we prepared for tournaments by studying (not seeing or viewing) films on the latest matches played by our prospective opponents? And how many times have we altered our tactics, match wise, to effectively counter the strategies of the opponents?

For too long have we been mesmerized by our supposed high standing that we have paid scant respect to the strengths of the opposition, secure in the belief that our inherent skill and history would win us further victories. Well, these are now memories one major tournament win in eleven years!

The main duties of the coaches there must at least two for different points of view — during tournaments would be to plot tactics for matches to come, The England squad for the football World Cup had one coach who would be watching England’s prospective opponents while England was playing her matches!

In fact, it is the tactics employed that are the final key to success in any tournament, let alone games. How to space out the appearances of players with rather different skills during a game, these factors can change the course of a game and a tournament.

Physical fitness is the next factor that we need to improve upon. The typical player of today is robust, fast and immensely fit. Given a tradeoff between skill and physical fitness factors in a player, the average player is first fit then skilful, first able to last out a hectic 100 minutes then able to dribble like Shahnaz of Pakistan.

For today, the emphasis has shifted from the solo dribbles of yesteryear to a quick passing game that emphasizes interdependence between players. This necessitates that the team does not carry any laggards. It would perhaps be important that a little more.

Article extracted from this publication >>  April 24, 1987