India found a way to win against Malaysia 2-1 in a draining Pool B encounter at the Commonwealth Games and confirm their spot in the semi-finals. That was the positive bit. But everything else they displayed out on the field suggested that this is a team that is struggling to play it’s best hockey.

And Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne is well aware of his side’s shortcomings.

“We are happy to be on the winning side. I think the team has improved since our first match against Pakistan. Though there are still certain areas we must get better with, this win will give the team a good momentum for the next match,” said Marijne after the game.

“Again, it’s not about the opponents but our own game. I am yet to see this team come up with a 7/10 performance in this tournament. If each of them manage to play their role to perfection, I am confident of a good show against England.”

The key point there is ‘if each of them manage their role to perfection’ because so far this team has come nowhere close to perfection.

Penalty corners

Rupinder Singh hasn't been at his best so far. Hockey India

First match vs Pakistan: 1/4

Second match vs Wales: 3/13

Third match vs Malaysia: 2/9

Total conversions: 6/26

If you want to look at it positively, you can. This team is earning penalty corner opportunities, which is a big deal in modern hockey. But then what are we doing with those opportunities?

Rupinder has looked woefully out of touch. His release is too slow and most of the times, the runner is already on him. When he does get it off, it is off target. Harmanpreet has been much better (4 goals) and it has reflected in his play on the field as well.

They have somehow managed to get by but against Australia, England and even New Zealand, this won’t do. Since the runners seem to be getting in the way very often, one obvious tactic would be to introduce variations just to throw the runners off. Leave them guessing. It will help in the long run.

Midfield missing

India seem to be missing the creative touch in midfield. Hockey India

Ramandeep Singh isn’t here. Reportedly, the reason for that absence is that he misses too many chances. But if his performances during the recent Azlan Shah tournament were any indication, he also creates a lot of opportunities. And that is what India have been missing the most. The link between the defence and the offence has been missing. It has led to a lack of rhythm.

This might also be down to the pressing tactics employed by Marijne but having a midfield general who is a tactical head on the field will help a great deal as well. A creative outlet will allow the likes of SV Sunil (who is doing all the running and the creating at the moment) to be much more deadly in front of the goal.

Sardar Singh is perhaps far too slow to fit into the scheme of things but surely, we needed to find someone else to fill that slot. As good as Manpreet Singh is, he seems to be more the running kind of player. He will play his heart out, make vital interceptions and be everywhere. The creative touch that India needs against better opponent will not come from him. At least, so far it hasn’t.

Blank shots

Akashdeep, usually so good, has looked out of sorts. Hockey India

Attacking Circle Penetrations vs Pakistan: 26 (Pakistan has 14)
Attacking Circle Penetrations vs Wales: 26 (Wales had just 8)
Attacking Circle Penetrations vs Malaysia: 22 (Malaysia had 18)

India’s young forwards have been the envy of the world. Mandeep and Akashdeep have been deadly but they have gone strangely missing here. Lots of penetration (as the numbers above indicate) but no finish.

Akashdeep, in particular, has seemed out of sort here. He is usually at his combative best against the big opponents but he seems dispirited here. The usual sharpness that accompanies his movement on the field is missing as is that deadly reverse shot.

Mandeep, on the other hand, has been guilty of missing plenty of easy chances. He just hasn’t hit the target often enough. Against lesser-ranked opponents, he needed to score more.

As we get closer to the medal round, the team will need to up the game. As Marijne said earlier, ‘this isn’t the team we’ve seen over the past year.’