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India’s World Cup campaign flawed from the start (Comment)

By Anand Philar

It is time to pick up the pieces of Indian hockey even as coach Jose Brasa is humming John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane” melody. One suspects that the Spaniard believes that he could be the first before the firing squad, post the Hockey World Cup.

His reported statement “my bags are always packed” is not without significance. The 2-3 defeat to England was probably the last straw for salvation, but India could yet derive some consolation from their ill-fated campaign by finishing fifth like they last did in 1994 at Sydney and qualify for this year’s Champions Trophy in Germany.

However, to attain that position, India still need to beat South Africa, flying high after a shock 4-3 defeat of Pakistan, in their concluding league fixture on Monday, and thereafter win both their classification matches. Should India fail again, then for sure, the knives would be out and the worms will crawl out of the can. Such consequences, though all too familiar, will send Indian hockey back to the Dark Ages.

It is pointless to blame the players or the coaching staff. After all, a team is only as good as the system it functions in and the system is only as good as the persons who govern it. Salvation for Indian hockey lies in a top-to-bottom overhaul and not the other way around. Change always begins at the top and development from the grassroots, but it is a moot point whether the current or future Hockey India officials would take cognizance of this home truth.

Forget talent and potential. The performance yardsticks that matter are the World Cup and the Olympics, and, to a lesser extent, the Champions Trophy.

Brasa’s assertion that the players “lacked in experience and exposure” following the loss to England is debatable since a majority of the team has been playing at the international level, be it junior or senior level, for five years and more.

Had Brasa witnessed in person the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, then he would concede that the current India team is hopelessly out of its depth at the highest level, something that is obvious even to the uninitiated. In contrast, Germany, despite fielding only a few players from their successful 2006 World Cup campaign and a bunch of inexperienced youngsters, have performed exceedingly well. Mark it down to their professionally-run set up at home.

The win against Pakistan on the opening night covered up a lot of deficiencies in the Indian team, but was cruelly exposed by better-organised and more disciplined opponents. Against England, it boiled down to motivation and intensity that the Indian team sadly lacked until the players woke up in the latter part of the contest. It was all too little too late.

The harsh reality is that Brasa is saddled with a bunch of players about whom he knows little — about their playing background, or their personal attributes. Nor has he a support system at his disposal. Worse still, as in Vasudevan Baskaran’s 1998 World Cup squad, there are semi-fit players who remained unexposed due to the closed training sessions.

These observations might sound like nit-picking, or growing wiser after the event, but it does not alter the results or performance of the team whose preparations for the World Cup were flawed from the start, and marred by controversy that unfortunately is a by-word in Indian hockey.

Looking ahead to India’s three remaining games in the World Cup, one fears the worst. The memories of the 1986 World Cup where India and Pakistan fought for 11th and 12th positions are still vivid, but one hopes history will not repeat itself.

(Anand Philar can be contacted at [email protected])

–Indo-Asian News Service

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( 628 Words)

2010-03-07-17:34:21