When it’s time to deliver, Indian hockey cracks. To counter that with reminder of 2014 Asian Games gold and 2016 Champions Trophy silver will be a bad idea at this time. India couldn’t beat Malaysia on Friday. That’s latest. Not that beating Malaysia is a given, but the hosts had been awful all through this Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. So to lose 0-1, be dreadful on field, and miss out on a place in the final is a hard pill for India to swallow.

India have every reason to be distraught and dejected. They earned it with their non-performance. The high of Mandeep Singh’s face-saving hat-trick against Japan hit an embarrassing low. What’s even more embarrassing is for a coach to say “it’s not the World Cup or Olympic Games”. Teams may treat Sultan Azlan Shah Cup as testing ground for youngsters, but you don’t’ hide behind such arguments after a defeat. That’s unacceptable.

India had to win by a minimum two-goal margin to leave Great Britain behind in the race to final. So they knew exactly what they had to do, but just weren’t good enough. Quite clearly, the scoreboard pressure got to the Indians, so much so that in the first 20 minutes they had just one shot at goal, that too off a penalty corner.

‘Not the World Cup or the Olympics’

Sardar Singh, after sort of rediscovering himself, had an off day. SV Sunil’s average tour hit a nadir. Rupinder Pal Singh’s form on drag flicks went from bad to worse. Manpreet Singh remained off-colour as well. And with PR Sreejesh ruled out due to injury, the post always looked shaky under Akash Chikte.

When India needed these seniors to show juniors the way in pressure situations, they themselves were scratching around. India were chasing the ball, not dictating play. It looked every player had one eye on the scoreboard, and as tick-tock of the clock pushed closer to finish, Malaysia scored off a penalty corner in the 51st minute to press the panic button on India.

“This is not the World Cup or the Olympic Games; this is the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, which is a good test. We want to test ourselves in certain areas. If that drops down a bit at this moment, okay,” Roelant Oltmans said.

The coach was also “not disappointed about the result”. Why not? The same Oltmans has always maintained that only winning matters to him. If that’s the case, how can a defeat not leave you disappointed. In fact, a defeat like Friday’s should hurt.

“We made by far too many unforced errors, decision-making was not good, ball speed was too low,” Oltmans added.

Five penalty corner chances fluffed

The Indians failed to make anything of the five penalty corners they earned. But what flummoxed most was Rupinder Pal Singh stepping up to take most of them. It’s not a secret that Rupinder’s conversion rate has dipped rapidly off late, while Harmanpreet Singh has emerged as a sensation and had already scored three goals in the tournament. Yet, he was the second choice for the on-field think-tank whenever India earned a penalty corner.

“We take certain decision on penalty corners, because this is the start of the year. Of course, we can do different things as well, but we did not do it. For sure, Rupinder in the next tournament will score goals like he did in the Asian Champions Trophy,” Oltmans said.

The coach needs to be asked for how long can a non-performing player stay in the team resting on his past laurels. Surely that’s not the criteria for team selection. When you should have beaten a struggling team left, right and centre, you lost the game. And failure to convert penalty corners was one of the primary reasons for defeat.

India also opted for the last resort of taking the ‘keeper off and add a kicking-back; but it proved futile, nothing worked and the Indian players were down on their knees as the referee blew the full-time whistle.

The verdict was a defeat but what echoed in one of the short phrases in Oltmans’ comments should be on the pin-up board. “We are not there yet,” he admitted.