First match, versus Indonesia: 17-0
Second match, versus Hong Kong China: 26-0
Third match, versus Japan (a top-20 team): 8-0
One by one, the teams came and lost to India like house flies that get zapped in an Ultraviolet insect trap. The first two matches they won with such ridiculous ease that coach Harendra Singh, without sugar-coating the results, called them “practice games.” The real contest, for him, began from the third game – against their first top-20 ranked opposition, Japan. But, like a dysfunctional lawn-mower that can’t be switched off, India trounced them 8-0 (do not forget, 8-0 – even if it appears smaller when compared to the jaw-dropping scorelines of the first two games – is a huge margin).
The final group game against Sri Lanka, too, seemed like a “practice game”. For India, on average, scored once in three minutes, beating them by another ridiculous margin of 20-0. It seemed like India could have played with a man short and still won the game comfortably.
India's scoring stats
|OPPOSITION||FIELD GOALS (SCORED/ATTEMPTED)||PENALTY CORNERS (SCORED/ATTEMPTED)||PENALTY STROKES (SCORED/ATTEMPTED)|
|Hong Kong China||17/39||9/21||0/0|
In the last seven minutes of the game against Sri Lanka, they took off goalkeeper Krishan Pathak and made Surender Kumar wear the red jersey to stretch the already gargantuan lead.
Well, going by the numbers, they could have played the entire match without a conventional ‘keeper and still beat the Sri Lankans. India, including the penalty corners, made 46 attempts on goals. Sri Lanka’s shots on goal: Zero.
How many attempts on goal did Hong Kong China make? Zero. And, Indonesia? One. Japan made seven. That’s eight attempts on goal by four teams put together.
In contrast, India have made 185 attempts on goals and have succeeded 76 times.
The ball’d hardly been in India’s circle in the group stage and the goalkeepers – PR Sreejesh and Krishan Pathak – were in action on a handful occasions.
Clearly, there’s light-years of gap between India and these teams. Which is why, the yardstick to measure the Indian team in this tournament so far should be the match against Korea, in which they won 5-3.
5-3: See, the scoreline itself, for a change, sounds real and doesn’t seem like the one from a video game played on some cheat code.
It’s against Korea that India were challenged for the first time. Of course, they were a goal ahead within a minute of the start. They were leading 3-0 in the 32nd minute. But it took the Koreans just two minutes to change it to 3-2.
Two goals in two minutes is what India have been doing to other teams. They were on the receiving end for once. For a few minutes they were on the backfoot despite holding on to a lead, albeit a slender one. They overcame this mini setback soon to score twice in the last two quarters to clinch the game 5-3 (Korea converted a last-minute penalty corner).
But the question that arises ahead of the semi-finals is how will the Indians cope with a setback – if they ever face one – against higher-ranked, better opponents?
Still the favourites
The team management, of course, would have taken this into account. Coach Harendra Singh and his backroom staff would ensure that the team doesn’t enter the crucial stage of the tournament with a sense of complacency.
The manner of its victories suggests that the team hasn’t lowered its intensity against any of the teams. Harendra’s men have been unapologetic and ruthless in dismantling the defences of their opposition.
And, when it comes to the question of their own defence – despite the little scare against Korea – they mustn’t be bothered too much. For, this is a team that held off Australia in the final of the Champions Trophy till it went down in a nervy shootout. The defence of this team has the reputation of being world class.
Malaysia, ranked 12th in the world, might pose a tougher challenge (than the other teams) to the men in blue in the semi-final on Thursday. But with the confidence of 76 goals so far in the tournament and an eight-match winning streak (including the 3-0 whitewash of New Zealand after the Champions Trophy), India have established themselves as the firm favourites to clinch the gold medal again and book their spot in the 2020 Olympics.