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In front of a capacity crowd at National Stadium, a live international television audience, and with the Prime Minister of India in the stands, India lost 0-8 to Australia in the Commonwealth Games final.
The 8 goal drubbing equalled the worst ever defeat in the history of Indian hockey. Several questions come to mind.
This article seeks to explain the technical, tactical, physical, emotional and psychological reasons for India's massive defeat.
First let's take a look at the distribution of the 8 goals that were inflicted upon India by the Australian team.
|Goal Nos.||Goal Type||Time Scored||Reason for Goal|
|1||FG||16 min||Turnover on a 16 yard free hit taken by Sardara, converted into goal by alert Australian offence|
|2||PC||18 min||Poor tackling by Mahadik, who was caught flat-footed, Jamie Dwyer manufactured a PC. Luke Doerner converted it|
|3||FG||28 min||Unforced turnover by Mahadik resulted in a counter attack by Australia. Sardara had difficulty tackling 1-on-1, resulting in a goal|
|4||PC||34 min||Poor footwork by Sardara, resulted in an outside the D free hit, which led to PC. Luke Doerner converted it|
|5||PC||49 min||Dumb mistake, Gurbaj hits the ball after the whistle is blown, near the 23 meters line. PC awarded. Luke Doerner converts it|
|6||FG||59 min||Indian defense caught napping; Australia scores from a solo run, after dodging a few deep defenders|
|7||FG||66 min||Indian goal keeper error. He should have let the ball go, which was hit from the right-in's position. Jamie pounced on the rebound|
|8||FG||69 min||Poor timing and tactic by India, of employing a full-field press in the last minute. Australia scores a field goal|
We will now examine the reasons for India's lopsided defeat. This article is divided into 3 sections:
TACTICAL BLUNDERS THAT LED TO INDIA'S DEFEAT
|Wrong Strategy of Playing an Open Game|
One has to be selective of when to play open hockey and when to play a compact one. An open play strategy worked in the match against Pakistan, who also play a similar type of game.
However, against a dominant and in-form Australia, winners of the 2009 Champions Trophy, 2010 World Cup and 2010 Champions Trophy, one just cannot afford to play an open game for a full 70 minutes against them.
Rather, we should pick one's moments of attack in a methodical, planned way, similar to how England and Germany played Austrlia did during the 2010 Hero Honda World Cup. England was the only team which defeated Australia in the Delhi World Cup, while Germany lost a very close final 1-2 to Australia.
While a loss is a loss, losing by a score of 1-2 looks much more respectable than a 0-8 drubbing.
|Inability to Control the Pace of the Game|
The game of hockey is not a100 metres sprint, one has to control the pace of the game, slowing down where necessary.
India played the final at such a high pace, that they got physically and mentally fatigued by the middle of the first half itself. This resulted in turnovers, caused by poor tackling, tired footwork and unforced errors.
The tragedy was compounded by the fact that no midcourse correction was applied, and India kept on going in top gear, and kept on committing turnovers.
|Lack of Ball Possession|
A team that plays an open game, but is unable to control the pace of the game, will lose possession of the ball and be vulnerable to fast counter attacks.
Yes, India did look dangerous in the first 10-15 minutes of the game, but lost control thereafter. Several turnovers resulted, due to poor passing or dribbling skills. These turnovers resulted in not only losing ball possession, but also in panicked running as the team struggled to regain possession.
India conceded 2 goals in the last 7 minutes of the first half, and 2 goals in the last 4 minutes of the second half. That's four preventable goals, had India learnt to maintain possession of the ball as the clock was winding down.
One of the key tactics of the Indian team was to cross the center line and hit a hard diagonal/square hit into the striking circle. This was done very many times, without building up an attack, without analysing the game situation at the time of the hit, and without any variations to sprinkle an element of surprise.
To make matters worse, there was not much off-the-ball running by the Indian strikers to ward off ther defenders. As a result, the alert Australian deep defenders could anticipate these blind hit-and-hope strikes, and instantly convert them into Australian counter-attacks.
|Poor Marking of Opponents|
Knowing the different types of opponent markings, and knowing when to use which type, has never being a strong point of Indian hockey over the past few decades.
During the final, India gave so much space to the Australian full-backs that were under no pressure, and could make short or long passes as needed to their leading forwards to launch counter-attacks.
This defensive flaw of loose marking was first exposed during the 1976 Montreal Olympics, where Australia whipped India 6-2. This was a shocking new record for goals scored against India, and took the fear factor out of India's opponents.
What made this final quite ironic was that Ric Charlesworth was a member of that 1976 Australian Olympic team, and was now the coach of the victorious Australian Commonwealth Games hockey team. On the Indian side, Ajitpal Singh and Ashok Kumar were members of the 1976 Indian Olympic team, who later never coached any Indian team to any international tournament victory, and who were now in the stands passively watching the rout, sitting beside Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.
|Disorganized Full-Court Press|
With 20 seconds to go for the final whistle, and down 0-7, India should have beeing play safe, in damage control mode. Instead, India employed a half-hearted, disorganized, full-field press on the Australian team, when they were taking a sideline free hit.
Was this is a wise decision, at such a late stage in the game, with the score reading 0-7, and against the world champion team Australia? You be the judge!
What eventually transpired was that Australia easily escaped the full-field press and scored their 8th goal to deliver the coup de grâce and take India out of its misery. For what it is worth, losing 0-7 would have looked better than losing 0-8.
Food for thought: What strategic changes were made in the game plan at half-time? What sideline instructions were the coaching staff relaying in the last few minutes of the the first half (when the score was 0-2)? What sideline instructions were the coaching staff imparting in the last few minutes of the the second half (when the score was 0-6)? How could the soft goals conceded at the end of each half have been avoided?
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT BY INDIA
|Reduce Running with the Ball|
The following fact needs to be drilled into the players' heads - the ball travels faster than the player. Almost everyone in the Indian team, with the exception of the goalkeeper, runs with the ball way too much, and that too in a way that reduces their optimum passing options.
On a practical note, when one is running with the ball at full speed, with the head down, one cannot analyse the game situation effectively to make optimal passes. Instead, the Indian players have to change their pace, direction and dexterity while running with the ball.
|The Disease of Over-Dribbling|
The Indian players dribble way too much, and in the process hang on to the ball more than what is needed. When I watch old films of the great Dhyan Chand, he played first time passing and receiving, using the technique of give-and-go, and dodging opponents effortlessly when the timing was right.
The Wizard's son Ashok Kumar in the 1970s, and Mohammad Shaheed in the 1980s, were often times guilty of over-dribbling the ball, and this trend has kept infecting each succeeding generation of Indian hockey players.
In the Commonwealth Games final, Jamie Dwyer exhibited optimal dribbling skills based on his position on the field, in the 2nd and 31st minutes of the first half. On both these occasions, left-in Jamie received the pass from his left full-back from the 16-yard line, tore away from his markers, and ended with a play making pass to his teammate.
Watching Jamie in full flow reminded me of how triple-Olympic-gold-medallist Udham Singh used to dribble and carry the ball in the 1950s and 1960s. Both Udham and Jamie are short in height, but tall in hockey intelligence and creativity.
|Lack of In-depth Tactical Knowledge of the Game|
Individually, and as a team, the majority of the Indian players lack in-depth tactical knowledge and game sense. They cannot read the opponent's offensive and defensive strategies during the run of play. As a result, they are unable to forsee problematic game situations in advance, nor counter them in real time when they happen on the field.
Knowledge is power, and the Indian players don't understand what works, what does not work, and why? In-depth tactical knowledge was where "Charlie's Devils" were way ahead of India in the final.
|Lack of Hockey Fundamentals|
The Indian team needs to understand the various types of tackling, and knowing which one to employ in a given game situation, and knowing when to delay, channel and commit during tackling. Due to lack of this understanding, India gave away soft goals and penalty corners.
Here are som examples. Incorrect tackling by Sardara Singh (caught on the wrong foot), led to a penalty corner being awarded to Australia, which resulted in their 4th goal (1 minute before half-time). Earlier, Sardara could not make an effective tackle from the left, as he was holding the stick with both hands, while trying to stop a counter attack mounted by Australia. Result - goal nos. 3 for Australia.
b. Possession Skills under Pressure
Whenever Australia put pressure on any Indian player, he would end up making a rushed play or a poor passing decision, leading to an Indian turnover and an Australian counter attack.
Inability to cleanly dodge an opponent, and more importantly, knowing when to dodge and when to pass, was one of the drawbacks of the Indian team, leading to several inefficient plays.
d. Aerial Hockey
India could have employed more aerial strategies, when Australia was employing a full-field press on the deep defense.
e. In-to-In hockey
How did Australia score their 1st goal? The Australian left-in dribbled the ball towards his left, drawing the Indian defence to the left side. He quickly brought the ball to his strong right side and passed to his right-in, who then passed the ball to his leading forward in the striking circle, who scored the goal with a backhand shot. This tactic is also called 'changing the point of attack'.
|Lack of Set Penalty Corner Plays|
In the final, India got 2 penalty corners and Australia effectively got 3 (2 were repeat PCs for Australia, making their total tally of 5 PCs).
Australia scored 3 goals from their 3 (effective) penalty corners making it a 100% conversion rate. India scored 0 goals from their PCs, resulting in a 0% conversion rate.
Of the two PCs awarded to India, the ball was not stopped cleanly for the first PC, and Sandeep executed a feeble push on the second PC, which immediately led to an Australian counter attack. Two golden opportunities were thus wasted.
An unforced turnover by left full-back Dhananjay Mahadik in the 15th minute of the first half, when the score was 0-0 was a killer.
An equally devastating unforced error occured in the 14th minute of the second half, when Gurbaj pushed the ball after the umpire blew his whistle, resulting in a penalty corner and eventually a goal for Australia.
Was it due to fatigue, loss of focus or plain foolish play that India started making schoolboy mistakes by the 15th minute of each half?
WHERE INDIA PLAYED WELL
|Winning a Medal, Finally!|
In the 12-year history of Commonwealth Games men's hockey, India entered the final for the first time, and ended with a silver medal. This was quite an honour and achievement, and made up for the disappointing World Cup finish earlier in the year.
|Sardara Singh's Silky Skills|
It is a beauty to watch Sardara Singh play, with so much confidence, poise and grace. He sure is a creative player, and makes things happen on the field. Of course, no one is perfect, and Sardara too needs fine tuning on his tackling skills and correct use of footwork.
The day India will have 5-6 players of Sardara's capability and intelligence, they stand a good chance of finishing in the top 4 of world hockey rankings.
|Peak Performance (though for the first 15 minutes of the game only)|
In the Commonwealth Games final, India exhibited peak performance in the first 10-15 minutes of the game. The Indian player had the desire to excel and win, they exhibted confidence, showed no fear of the world champions Australia, demonstrated an ethic of hard work, with a high quality of passing and receiving the ball.
Unfortunately, the duration of a hockey game is 70 minutes. India could not sustain this peak peformance of play after 15 minutes into the final.
|Movement of the Ball in the Backfield|
It has taken India a long time, more than 20 years to understand the value of moving the ball in the backfield. This is the tactic of 'Positive Indirect Hockey', European in origin.
German coach Gerald Rach first introduced this tactic to the Indian team, just a few weeks before the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. And Spanish coach Jose Brasa has further refined it over the past couple of years.
While there is still a long way for India to employ this tactic as effectively as the Germans, this is a step in the right direction.
In conclusion, India made Australia look much better than they were, due to the various tactical mistakes outlined in this article. Note, however, that the purpose of this article was not to criticise the Indian hockey coaching staff, but to introspect and see what needs to be changed and improved.
Why do countries like South Korea compete so closely with the Oceanic and European countries, while India and Pakistan struggle to cope with those teams?
A couple of years ago, I was talking to the German goalkeeper from the 2004 Athens Olympics. He mentioned that during their Olympic preparation camp, they had country-specific practices, on how they would play Australia, how they would play Spain, and so on. As a result, they knew what to expect and how to counter it effectively during the Olympic competition.
Isn't success on the field the result of planning, preparation and simulation? That is the lesson to be learned by India from the 2010 Commonwealth Games hockey final