trophy, India’s atrophy
A mediocre India managed to win only one match out of six, losing twice to arch-rivals Pakistan.
— Reuters photo
IN THE NEWS
trophy, India’s atrophy
A new-look Spanish team sprang a surprise to break the monopoly of top four superpowers of world hockey — Australia, Holland, Germany and Pakistan — to win their first Champions Trophy gold. An unimpressive India, on the other hand, lost yet again to Pakistan in the bronze medal play-off to finish fourth.
For the home team, the tournament ended in a double loss as it not only failed to improve upon its bronze medal performance of the previous two editions but also saw its star player and world’s top scorer Sohail Abbas saying goodbye to international hockey. Sohail was joined by the team skipper Wasim Ahmed in retirement.
Sohail could not conceal his disappointment for being not named best player of the world in spite of becoming the world’s top scorer. The announcement about the best player was made during the Champions Trophy at Lahore and the award went to an Australian.
The second half of the tournament saw some pulsating games and a number of major surprises. A young, experimental German side, who had lost three of their first four games in the tournament, came back strongly to record a sensational win over defending champions Holland.
Holland could never recover from the shock and went down to Spain in the final 2-4, a margin with which they had beaten Spain in the round robin league four days earlier. Germans also did not stop at that. They beat New Zealand in their last classification game to avoid taking home the wooden spoon.
The cynosure of all eyes was the Spanish team which proved that their 4-0 victory over Pakistan in the Athens Olympics was no fluke by recording a thumping win in Lahore on the newly laid bumpy Astro-turf.
Assisted by current FIH Young Player of the Year, Santiago Freixa, who hammered two goals past five-time gold-medallist goalkeeper Guus Vogels, Spain took their revenge in less than four days of their 2-4 defeat at the hands of Holland.
Spain become the fifth nation to win the Champions Trophy after Germany (eight times), Australia and Holland (seven times each) and Pakistan (three times). Spain’s task was made easier as Olympic champions Australia had withdrawn from the contest due to security concerns.
Interestingly, it was Holland’s Mauritis Hendriks who coached the Spanish team. For him, it was a rare double. In 2000, he not only led Holland to the Olympic gold medal triumph in Sydney but also helped his national team to clinch the Champions Trophy. This time he was on the victory podium as coach of Spain.
Dutch striker Karel Klaver emerged as the top scorer of the competition with seven goals.
For India, who had shared a two-match series against Spain before leaving for Lahore, things did not go the way their German coach Gerhard Rach wanted them to go. India’s failure to equal its previous best, a bronze, may have jeopardised Rach’s continuation as national coach.
Intriguingly, the IHF chief, Mr KPSGill, and Secretary, Mr K. Jyothikumaran, gave contradictory statements about his continuing as national coach.
The new-look Indian team was perhaps not cut for this major tournament as most of the players, especially the forward line, comprised of youngsters with little or no experience at this level.
Sandeep Michael, Hari Prasad, Vinay and Tushar have the potential but they need more experience and exposure. India missed Gagan Ajit Singh, Deepak Thakur and even Prabhjot Singh.
India were the least impressive of all teams. Lacking consistency, they played well in patches, especially in games against Holland and Germany.
Pakistan, after a good start, failed to maintain their tempo. Except for the bronze medal match win, the performance of the home team during the second phase of the tournament was disappointing.
Perhaps, differences in the team not only started surfacing but also affected the performance, ultimately forcing both Sohail and Wasim Ahmed to call it a day.
Umpiring in the tournament, too, was far from satisfactory. New Zealanders were unhappy about the awarding of penalty stroke to India, which helped the latter to equalise in the pool match. Some of the participating teams did raise their voice for the third umpire, which the International Hockey Federation has been opposing for a long time.
Having gone winless in the past year, Jyoti Randhawa had begun to doubt his game. But his coach Kel Llewellyn knew that it was just a matter of time before his pupil would be back on the winning track. He proved to be right as the 32-year-old golfer won a tense showdown against Australian Terry Pilkadaris to clinch the Volvo Masters of Asia title in Kuala Lumpur.
Jyoti hit a 15-foot birdie putt in the second hole of the sudden death to end the Asian Tour season with a bang.
He pocketed $ 99,000 to win his fifth career title in Asia, also preventing Pilkadaris from bagging a third title in four months.
In the play-off, Jyoti and Pilkadaris birdied the first hole. In the second hole, it seemed to be curtains for the Indian as he sent the ball well past the flag while Pilkadaris set up a seven-foot birdie chance. However, Jyoti kept his nerve and holed home his putt. Pilkadaris missed his, and lost the title by a whisker.
"It’s a nice Christmas present. I’ll put in a thousand dollars to make it $ 100,000 in total," he said. "This was one of the most exciting rounds of golf I’ve played since my Indian Open win in 2000. I handled myself well and I was very focussed."
Despite all the pressure, Jyoti was gracious enough to applaud some of the shots of his rival. "Terry played great. I wished him well as he played some good golf," he said.
Now that he has tasted success after a lean period, it is time for him to capitalise on his good form and add more titles to his kitty next year.
Calling it quits
Pakistan’s penalty corner specialist Sohail Abbas shocked his fans with his decision to call it quits. He was at the peak of his powers and looked likely to play for several years more. In October this year, he had broken Holland’s Paul Litjens’ world record of 267 goals in the match against India at Amritsar. In his seven-year career, he scored 274 goals and had become the nemesis of rival goalkeepers with his lethal drag flicks. He also scored a goal in his last match as Pakistan beat India to win the bronze medal in the Champions Trophy.
"I have played enough for my country and it is now time for the youngsters to take over," the 29-year-old said, even as he hinted that he was fed up with the politics in Pakistan hockey.
It is sad news not only for the Pakistan team, but also for world hockey, which has lost one of its few superstars.
Killer instinct lacking
Our cricket players lack killer instinct and the right focus. No doubt there have been some fitness problems, but our players are not strong mentally and lack the will to fight. They play Test matches like one-dayers and one-day matches like Tests.
Technically, there is a lot of difference between the two. In Tests, it is important not to lose one’s wicket for as long as possible. There was a time when players like Chandu Borde, Bapu Nadkarni and Ajit Wadekar would bat till the end of the match.
Their aim was to save the match and fight till the end. In Test matches sometimes, runs are not important and only staying at the wicket is vital to draw the match. The need of the hour is a sound temperament and the will to fight till the end.
It was disturbing to observe that Virender Sehwag was slapped a fine for allegedly harsh words with the umpire during the first Test match against Australia. This is not justified by any standards because under the same circumstances, Ricky Ponting of Australia was not fined in a one-day match last year. This has hurt the feelings of the youngsters like me who expect fairness in the matches.