London: There was no heckling from the stands. There were no heated moments on the field. The good old English clap followed to appreciate a skilful dodge, save or clearance. If there was a goal, the clap turned a little louder. It was perhaps the most gentlemanly win in an India-Pakistan match across sports. In the end, the score read 6-1 to India. A hammering, but minus the hubbub produced when these two nations play. But it was not surprising.
India were still in recovery mode. A defeat against Malaysia cut their confidence in half, the chance to win the Hockey World League (HWL) Semifinals no longer existed.
Pakistan’s reasons to be quiet were different. They are a team in disarray, playing like hockey minnows and struggling to qualify for the World Cup. On Saturday, after conceding their 27th goal of the tournament and without winning a single penalty corner in the entire match, Pakistan failed to book a place in the HWL Finals later this year.
And what killed the fans’ interest was the trivial platform – a placement match for the 5/8 position. But India’s win ensured that they play for the 5th position against Canada on Sunday, while Pakistan will meet China for the 7th position.
‘NOT HAPPY ANYMORE’
The disquiet in Indian body language was evident. Though they produced goals to beat Pakistan, the thoughts from quarterfinal defeat 48 hours ago were still vexing them.
“You always need some time to cope with disappointment and that’s the time we gave them. The next day (Friday) we started bringing our focus to this match (against Pakistan). You have to make sure that you get over it (disappointment) and start afresh,” coach Roelant Oltmans said after India’s second win over Pakistan in less than a week.
They won 7-1 in a pool game earlier in the tournament, which is India’s biggest win ever against Pakistan.
“In this tournament, we won’t be happy anymore. I think we should have finished higher than we will,” Oltmans admitted.
NO COMPETITIVE MATCHES!!!
It’s strange to hear that you lose to a team ranked eight places lower and then complain that you haven’t had enough competitive matches in the tournament.
India lost 2-3 to Malaysia, which was the second time in a month and a half that they went down to their Asian neighbours in a must-win game. The last time was in Ipoh at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. It was a 0-1 defeat there that put India out of reckoning for the final.
But yes, Oltmans is complaining about lack of competitive games in London.
“You need competitive matches in tournaments like these. That is my biggest disappointment. We could have played Argentina or Holland one more time, because that is good for the development of young players, and we have quite a number of them right here,” said Oltmans.
A coach saying that, especially after the hard-to-keep-down defeat against Malaysia, sends out the wrong signal. Of course, it will be heartening to see India beating teams like Germany, Netherlands and Australia regularly. But that will happen after winning becomes a habit, which is not the case right now.
We lose or draw games when win is the only way forward. It happened at the Rio Olympics against Canada and Germany, twice this year against Malaysia and against Belgium at the three-nation invitational in Dusseldorf. Not to forget, India also allowed England to come back and draw the pool game at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in May.
So what lack of competitive games is the India coach talking about. Winning, and consistently at that, is what India requires and continues to ail our hockey.
NO MORE ARMBANDS
In the last match against Pakistan here at the HWL Semifinals, India wore black armbands to protest Indian soldiers being martyred in crossborder terrorism and firing.
There was a lot of speculation over what was the provocation to do so, especially after former Hockey India president and now FIH chief, Narinder Batra, posted some abusive remarks against Kashmiri separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Umar had congratulated the Pakistan cricket team following India’s defeat against Pakistan in the final of Champions Trophy cricket tournament at The Oval.
But Oltmans chose to distance himself from the issue.
“No, I don’t know,” he said when asked what made the team do that earlier and refrain from doing on Saturday.
And when probed if he supported the players over the decision, he made a straight face and said: “No comments”.