There are numbers that might explain the Indian hockey contingent’s failure to win a medal at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. We’ll get to them later. For, they reveal the areas that the men’s and women’s team ought to improve but the reason for returning empty-handed from the Games is more a mental one.

Both teams, especially the women, after their hard-fought semi-final defeats, seemed lacking enough mental energy for the bronze medal game. In short: both teams played their worst games of the tournament when a medal was at stake.

Disaster against England

The women, who’d beaten England in a group game, conceded six goals – four of them in the final quarter – in the bronze medal match. Until the first half of the match, they were just a goal down and had a chance of upsetting their opposition, ranked second in the world. But in the final quarter – after Sophie Bray added another goal for England – when they were expected to come up with a relentless attack (which they did against Australia in the semis) they cracked, collapsed and finished the tournament with a humiliating scoreline.

But this defeat, for Rani Rampal and company, was an aberration. Because they’d reached the semis, playing a level of hockey that was expected of them ahead of the tournament. Yes, against Wales, who are ranked 26th in the world (16 places lower than India), in the first match, they stuttered and lost 2-3. But the following victories – against Malaysia, England and South Africa – nourished the hopes of a first women’s hockey medal for India since 2006.

Barring the disaster against England in the bronze medal, this was India’s best performance in women’s hockey in ages. This team, under Rani Rampal, coached by Harendra Singh, is training hard and aiming high. Pre-tournament, they had won the Asia Cup, an away series in South Korea and were looking to win the top prize at Gold Coast. So, the England defeat shouldn’t demoralise them.

Harendra Singh, meanwhile, would want them to convert more chances they create and the ones they get. They converted only three of their 33 penalty corners in Gold Coast. In the bronze medal match, they failed to score off the five field goal chances they created and the five penalty corners they got.

vs Wales 1/6 1/15
vs Malaysia 2/5 2/7
vs England 1/7 0/1
vs South Africa 1/4 0/2
vs Australia 1/5 0/3
vs England 0/5 0/5
TOTAL 6/32 3/33

The conversion rates of silver-medallists Australia are similar to India’s. They have scored in five of the 41 chances they created and could convert only four of their 34 penalty corners. But they made up for that in defence, which was breached for the first time by New Zealand in the gold medal clash. Whereas, the Indian defenders – even if they didn’t give away too many penalty corners (about three per match) – the numbers suggest weren’t so strong.

vs Wales 2/4 0/2
vs Malaysia 0/1 1/2
vs England 1/9 0/6
vs South Africa 0/2 0/3
vs Australia 1/5 0/3
vs England 5/8 1/4
TOTAL 9/29 2/20

Conversion woes remain for Marijne’s boys

The Gold Coast campaign would sting the men’s team more because this is first time in 12 years it has failed to clinch a medal.

“We can beat any side in the world on our day. I feel we can win a medal. But I don’t know whether we will return with a gold or not,” captain Manpreet Singh had said ahead of the tournament. The expectations, then, was not too high. So, Manpreet and his men would rue that they couldn’t even meet that.

Another thing that Manpreet had commented about before leaving for the games was India’s penalty corner problem. Even in their bronze medal winning campaign in the Hockey World League finals and the fifth place finish in Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, converting penalty corners was the main problem.

“Regarding penalty corner conversions, we have four specialists (drag flickers) in the team and we should be able to convert as many penalty corners as possible. I think we have improved on that front also,” he’d said.

They haven’t. Their penalty corner conversions this tournament:-

vs Pakistan 1/4 1/4
vs Wales 1/7 3/13
vs Malaysia 0/4 2/9
vs England 2/7 2/3
vs New Zealand 0/8 1/9
vs England 0/8 1/1
TOTAL 4/38 10/39

And Harmanpreet was the only one who

After the exhilarating performance against England in the last group match that saw Manpreet & Co overturn a 2-3 deficit and win 4-3 in the game’s last five minutes, India faltered in the next two matches.

The vulnerable midfield was weakened further by Rupinder Pal Singh’s injury in the semi-final and the bronze medal match. Manpreet apart, the others hardly injected the ball to the strikers. And, the striking, too, needed improvement.

As with the women, the men’s defence couldn’t cover the shortcomings of the attackers.

vs Pakistan 1/3 1/8
vs Wales 0/1 3/4
vs Malaysia 1/2 0/3
vs England 1/5 2/5
vs New Zealand 2/3 1/4
vs England 0/2 2/7
TOTAL 5/16 9/31

Results don’t bother Marijne as much as performances do. Which is why, despite a fifth place finish in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, he defended his team, who lacked several key players. But this was the best squad that he had put together and wishes to continue till the Olympics. And, neither the results nor the performance in Gold Coast would make the coach happy. He has quite a few things to iron out ahead of the Asian Games in August.