Triumph and Trauma of a Coach
M. K. Kaushik with K. Arumugam
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The South African Spit
|The Africans were in no mood to lose. With
only 2 minutes left in the game, one of their forwards went close to goalkeeper Subbaiah and spit on
Expectedly, Subbaiah swung his stick and the pre-planned Africans were up in arms, demanding a penalty corner. This was a somewhat unsporting action by the South Africans, aiming to divert and provoke the goalkeeper.
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he Indian team reached Kuala Lumpur in the early hours of September 3, 1998. We reached the Games village in a luxury bus, around 2 hours after landing in Kuala Lumpur airport and getting our passes made.
Ramesh, Balakrishnan and myself were put in a 3-room suite with a common hall. The players were put in four spacious apartments, with four per room. We had three television sets for our team, with the 16 players sharing two sets, and the officials having the other set.
The following day, the players had warm-up exercises, jogging and stretching. We also played a practice match with Kenya. We won the match with a good margin, despite not playing my prime penalty corner hitters and allowing the others to play. However, I was not completely satisfied with our scoring.
Soon came the crucial encounter with Australia, our first match in the Commonwealth Games. We wanted at least one point from this outing, that is, a draw. The match did not go the way we wanted. By half-time, we were down 0-3. Where did we fail then?
Inside the circle, the Australians were far superior in skill, quicker in action, and were masters in taking their shots from the place they receive the ball.
Against our instructions, Dhanraj Pillai was falling back too deep. I had made it clear right from the beginning that the centre-forward should not fall back. In the defence too, I noticed a flaw. I had instructed the defenders to mark the opposing forwards only in the dangerous area in the circle, and leave the narrow angle shots for the goalkeeper to defend. Our instructions were not adhered to, and all three goals conceded in the first half came from the danger area in the strking circle.
At half-time, we told our boys to go all out for goals. We managed to score twice and the scoreline read 3-2. Then came the demoralising fourth goal which Australia scored from the non-dangerous area of the circle. It was a bloody bad goal to concede by Subbaiah. India ended up losing 5-2 to Australia.
Our next match was against South Africa. The game appeared to a match between their goalkeeper and India. Their goalkeeper, Brian Myburgh (age 25, caps 98), also their captain, was by far the best goalkeeper I have seen in my 25-year association with competitive hockey. His interceptions were superb, anticipation excellent, and he was unbeatable from narrow angles. He also used to guide his team from the back with constant shouting and encouragement.
Yes, we won that match 2-1, with goals scored by the ever-alert Prabhakaran off a rebound, and a Baljeet Dhillon deceptive penalty corner scoop.
The Africans were however in no mood to lose. With only two minutes left in the game, the goalkeeper kicked the ball so powerfully that the ball went into the Indian half, between the striking circle and the 25-yard line. While our defender was attempting to stop the ball, one of their forwards went close to goalkeeper Subbaiah and spit on his hand.
Expectedly, Subbaiah swung his stick and the pre-planned Africans were up in arms, demanding a penalty corner. This was a somewhat unsporting action by the South Africans, aiming to divert and provoke the goalkeeper. Hell broke loose and the game was stopped. Luckily for us, the umpire saw through their design and no damage was done to us. We held on in the remaining two minutes and emerged victorious.
The victory against South African gave us enormous confidence. We did not take things for granted in our next match against Wales, and won 6-3. What worried me though was that all 3 goals we conceded were off penalty corners.
We had a cakewalk against the minnows Trinidad and Tobago, winning 8-0. Their pivot, an Indian, caught my attention with his decent job. The following day, the manager, coach and other officials of the Trinidad team came to our room to discuss about planning, tactics and training methods. They have a pool of only 500 players in their country to choose from. I felt that even their planning for the future seemed to be better than ours.
At this stage, the tournament was interestingly poised with South Africa's victory over Australia upsetting every calculation. We had to win our last league match against New Zealand in order to qualify for the semi-final.
The pressure was on us, but in our hearts we knew that the islanders were beatable. We studied their previous games and discussed their weaknesses, especially their full back. All this planning helped us outplay them 3-1 to reach the semi-finals, with Dhanraj Pillai playing an extraordinary game.
Our game had clicked so well that the crowd surrounded us after the match as if we had won the tournament itself. For the first time, K. P. S. Gill, who used to be always seated in the VIP gallery, came to the ground and congratulated us profusely. He said, "After a long time, I am seeing Dhanraj play so well."
India Score Against South Africa
Photograph Courtesy The Hindu