CWG hockey: India need to tighten defence in final against Australia

By Anand Philar, IANS,

New Delhi : Riding the wave is a tricky business as India will doubtless discover when they take on world champions Australia in the men’s hockey final of the Commonwealth Games here Thursday.

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India’s smashing wins against Pakistan (7-4) and England (on penalties) point to a team that is on a high and riding a wave of popular support.

However, it will take a greater effort from India in the final against a team that cruelly exposed the hosts in the league by winning 5-2 last week.

“We should guard against repeating our mistakes in the final,” said India skipper Rajpal Singh in an obvious reference to the two blunders at the start that helped Australia go up 2-0 by the 11th minute.

When ahead, the Aussies are a difficult and different proposition as India found to their grief a week ago and this will be on their minds on the morrow.

“It is not so much about fitness as the game you play. The final is to be played at 11.30 in the morning and we have had all our games around that time while India’s matches have been in the evenings. This could be an advantage for us,” said Aussie team coach Ric Charlesworth.

India showed great character in the semi-final against England when they came back from a 1-3 deficit to equalise and then clinch the tie-breaker on goalkeeper Bharat Chhetri’s save, and it will have to be more of the same against Australia.

India’s major concern is the defence where Dhananjay Mahadik is a step too slow, wing-half Prabodh Tirkey is nursing a problematic back and so also penalty corner specialist Sandeep Singh who suffered a near life-threatening injury in 2006 in a freak shooting incident.

These shortcomings could get magnified in a tight match. “You got to put away as many chances as you can to win a match,” said Charlesworth. The Indians would do well to bear this in mind.

One of India’s best options against Australia would be to police Jamie Dwyer, who has been a livewire in the midfield with his roving duties besides lending depth to the Australian frontline where the likes of Des Abbott, Glenn Turner and Simon Orchard have been in top form.

Adding another dimension to the Aussie line-up is the penalty corner specialist Luke Doerner who currently tops the goal-scorers’ list with six conversions.

Ranged against them are the skillful Indian forwards like youngsters Sarvanjit Singh and Dharamvir Singh, and the experienced trio of Tushar Khandkar and Shivendra Singh and skipper Rajpal Singh, who on their day can cut through any defence.

Thus, all the ingredients that make for a potentially exciting final are in the pot, and whatever the outcome, one can expect top quality hockey that the faithful fans, braving the mid-day heat, deserve to watch.

(Anand Philar can be contacted at [email protected])