The performance of Indian team has been improving slowly and steadily since last Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. India cherished some moments in Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2011 when they defeated Great Britain, drew with last World Champions Australia, but to falter in second half of the tournament which includes Black Sticks’ biggest win against India 7-3 in league stage and finishing 6th.
The result of Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2011 has changed a lot of things in Indian hockey (read on stick2hockey.com), including appointment of current Chief Coach Michael Nobbs. Under Nobbs, team’s performance has improved, which can be seen from the title winning performance at Asian Champions Trophy 2011 and qualifying for Olympics in style (defeated France 8-1 in final). But one area still needs improvement, i.e. India’s old problem of succumbing under the pressure in dying moments of game and conceding equalizer or losing goal, for example, the Final of Champions Challenge I in South Africa (lost to Belgium 3-4, conceded a goal in 70th minute), Semi Final of Asian Games 2010 against Malaysia (lost in extra time 3-4 after conceding equalizer in 67th minute). Similarly, India played well against Germany in Visa International Invitational Hockey Tournament at Riverbank Arena, only to concede a goal in 65th minute and lost 2-1.
It is the need of hour for India to change from the habit of conceding goals in dying moments to scoring in those most demanding moments for any team’s defence who is leading on score board. That is what, India did today, scored the wining goal in 70th minute through SK Uthappa to win (2-1) against Korea, but only after conceding a equalizer in 65th minute. It is welcome change at least in the attacking department, that not only gave first win on blue turf for India in their 6th outing on the surface, but also it should get back their confidence, which they might lost after their 1-5 defeat against New Zealand in their campaign opener of Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2012.
Indian team’s overall performance has improved but they are still same old in defence. As it is said, “Attack is best form of defence”, and Indian style of hockey is attacking style. But it also needs support from defence, which at least does not gift the ball/pc/goals to opponents. India is lucky to have good goalkeepers in PR Sreejesh and Bharat Chetri (both have featured in all the tournament since Nobbs took over), otherwise results would have been much different.
If India needs to excel in future, they need to build bench strength, should have at least 3 players for each position, as Nobbs has planned. But million dollar question is, do Indian hockey has a bench? Bench itself is broken into pieces (i.e. IHF-/-HI), how can one strengthen it? Everybody says, India has got talent in hockey, then is it so difficult to find a decent defender, if not Dilip Tirkey’s caliber?