If the Olympic Games were what the Indian Hockey Team was preparing for then to put the players through a hectic IndoPak series of six internationals, not to speak of a benefit match, all in a matter of 13 days, was hardly the thing to do. By the way, whoever thought of describing these hockey internationals as “Fest” matches? And in the manner of cricket Organisers, how did the hockey federation come to think of the brilliant idea of a travelling circus so close to the Olympic Games?
Any other time a tour of the subcontinent would have been alright. One should not underestimate the role of such exchanges in building up good neighbourly relations and raising much needed funds. But this was the time for preparations which called for a different strategy. The ‘Olympics first, everything else afterwards, especially as this is being seen as India’s last chance to reestablish itself in the world’s hockey elite.
Two matches on consecutive days in the Marshalls international tournament at Nairobi in June (both won by India), a series of two internationals plus a benefit match in the subcontinent could have sufficed.
Half a dozen more matches against the same rivals would have taught us few new lessons for both India and Pakistan follow the same style.
In group B of the Seoul Olympic Hockey tournament next month India face Great Britain, West Germany, USSR, Canada and Korea all of whom play a style of hockey quite different from the Indo Pak style. A little more match practice against tough European teams would have been ideal. It would have*been better playing in the four nation tournament at Mannheim in June or in the more recent five nation Amstelveen competition. However, it was too late in the day when we thought of it as other nations had already charted out their preparations.
Be that as it may, the IndoPak series has ended on the right note for both countries. Each team won two internationals, drawing the remaining two, the benefit match on a rain sodden natural grass pitch at the ‘Agra stadium ended in a 41 victory for India,
India began the series at Delhi as though they were only picking up the threads after their two successive wins in Nairobi. Three up at half time one thought they would double the margin by the time the game ‘was over. But instead they allowed the Pakistanis into the match by a strangely in different showing in the second half. From the Pakistani angle. it was a gallant fight back. They lost23 in the end and how they must have wished that the match could have been extended by another five minutes or so.
The Delhi victory was India’s most authoritative. They then went on to win the Lucknow international 21 before Pakistan rediscovered their rhythm on the brand new Gwalior AstroTurf System 90 pitch. It was the same score line but with Pakistan the winners this time, It put them in the right frame of mind for the Pakistan leg of the tour. Twice at Lahore and Quetta, they found the Indians rallying in the second half to neutralize Pakistan’s slender lead and force draws, before ultimately having their say on the worn out Astor pitch of Karachi’s Hockey Club of Pakistan. If the Delhi match saw India scoring its most authentic win of the series, Karachi provided Nasir Alis Pakistan team its finest hour.
The early Indian successes in the series showed the half line with Vivek Singh as fulcrum, in good light. Thoiba singh, on the left was at his trustful best, and the forwards on the whole, showed a pleasing knack of making good use of vacant spaces. ‘Also, every time Mohammed Shahid was sent in to replace a player he had a way of effecting an improvement. Even if Pargat Singh tends to be too confident for safety, there is no doubt that he is one of the most versatile players in the game today. Look at the way he wove his way through in those last moments at Karachi when India had thrown it’s all to force a draw. Only a Pargat can do it.
But one will have to record that the goal keeping is not what it should be. Great improvement will have to be shown in vital department to ensure a respectable ‘outcome at Seoul. Even Mark Patterson, the new find, will have to do a lot better. Tariq Sheikh’s goals in the Karachi international were not all that unstoppable Another old weakness which continues is our unsure trapping. It was amazing the number of times in a match passes were wasted because some forward or the other failed to trap the ball. On smooth surfaces like the ones on which internationals are played these days this failing is inexcusable.
Since both India and Pakistan play the same style of hockey there was little opportunity available to test our defensive skill against the long aerial ball. Also, we made few raids with the help of such a tactic, which is so frequently used not only by European teams but also by the Koreans, At Lucknow during the Indira Gandhi memorial tournament last January, the Koreans would religiously train to perfect this tactic not only to use it is attack but also to master defence against it When Pargat Singh scored a goal from a scoop in a penalty comer sequence in the opening international at Delhi, one had looked forward to seeing what other improvements had been made by our players in taking penalty comers. There is some improvement but not enough. Pargat did the scoop once too often in Delhi, resulting in the loss of the element of surprise. In stressing a better success rate from penalty ‘comers, one cannot forget the importance of defence when such awards are given against us. Here goal keeping is all important.
Once Shahbaz Ahmed got going at Gwalior the Pakistan attack found its rhythm. Shahbaz wastes little time in his dribbles. The secret of his runs is his avoidance of the opposing defender. He keeps away from him rather than invite trouble by running at him. This was a secret of Indian dribble artists of old. Once Shahbaz recovered his touch others like Zabib Sharif, Tariq Sheikh and Qasim Khan were not far behind. In defence, the compact Qazi Mohaib is a great asset. He is not merely a tireless tackler but has an uncanny knack of finding the goal from penalty comers. He scored five goals and automatically adjudged man of the series. This Pakistan team may only be a distant relation of past teams from that country,
But it will have to be conceded that after the slump of 1986 there is evidence of considerable improvement. The same could also be said of the present Indian team. But the improvement that has been recorded is far from enough to enable it reach gold standard at Seoul.
Naturally the players must be eager to, get some rest fire the recent travels and travails. After cooling off, if they can get some matches at Seoul against tough Europeans before the start of the Olympic campaign it will do them a world of good.
P.S. The Pre-Olympic predictions are Germany (Gold), Holland (Silver), Australia (Bronze).