India's penalty corner conversion worries Baskaran

At the Asian Games, India could convert only 23 of the 59 penalty corners it earned during the group stage of the competition.

India's Varun Kumar (left) scores a goal on a penalty corner against Sri Lanka.   -  AFP

The Indian men's hockey team is having a golden run in the ongoing Asian Games. The team has produced some record-breaking performances and has set a semifinal date with Malaysia.  

India has won all its group stage matches, scoring 76 goals in the process. The tally could have been much bigger if not for India's poor penalty corner conversions.

V. Baskaran, captain of the 1980 Olympic gold-winning team in Moscow, agreed there was work to be done. "Yes, it is an issue but let's not read too much into it. The team has done brilliantly so far and has qualified for the semifinals. Penalty corner conversions are something they need to work on and I am sure they will do better," he said. 

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During the Commonwealth Games, India failed to convert eight of the nine penalty corners during its semifinal against New Zealand and lost by a 2-3 margin. 

At the Asian Games, India could convert only 23 of the 59 penalty corners it earned during the group stage of the competition. It translates to a mere 47 per cent conversion rate.

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"Let's look into the positive aspect. What I felt was that it could be a tactic to keep your best player fresh for the semifinal and final. Harmanpreet Singh is a match-winner and will play a crucial role against Malaysia. Harendra has worked under me as an assistant coach and I could sense his tactics," Baskaran, who has had multiple stints as coach of the men's team, said.

"However, Harmanpreet could have been tried in one of the games. If you suddenly place him in a high-pressure semifinal or final, he might not have the feel of the ball, but the study made by the team management might be different.

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"Honestly, I was shocked to see Harmapreet not take strike. Result-wise it is great but performance at one particular department (penalty corner conversion) could be a different call," he added.

For Baskaran, India not converting penalties is a lesser worry than the team 'conceding unwanted goals'. "For me, it's not the penalty corner conversion but against Korea, the pressure was built because India conceded two unwanted goals. The team was tested only that day and we conceded two goals, which I think, a normal goalkeeper could have stopped.

"Let's be honest in facing these issues. In the coming matches we can't afford to make these kinds of mistakes," he said.

The Malaysian Challenge 

The last time India played Malaysia was during the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast where it won 2-1.

Although India ended on the winning side, there were a number of missed chances.

"Malaysia's strength lies in its field goals and they are very good at it. Beating Sri Lanka is not a big deal as even a district team from Chennai can beat them. India should be able to beat Malaysia but India's trump card will be our goalkeeper as Malaysia would try and hang out for a shoot-out."

Before the team left for Jakarta, skipper P.R. Sreejesh told Sportstar that the team's aim was just not to win the gold but qualify for the Olympics. Baskaran too echoed similar sentiments. "We have the best chance to qualify for the Olympics and we should leave no stone unturned. Defend the gold and just qualify for Tokyo Olympics. Why to leave it late," he concluded.