Attacking hockey need of the hour for India heading into QF

India has endured a difficult Hockey World League campaign so far, drawing one and losing two of its group matches.

Germany beat India 2-0 in the third and final group match on Sunday.   -  PTI

Before the competition started, India's biggest strength being touted was its riches in the penalty corner department. No other team at the Hockey World league Finals here boasts of a five-man battery, each one of them tried and tested in the PC conversion business.

Three matches later, with the league engagements wrapped up without a win and some disappointing performances, the riches have appeared strictly underwhelming. And even though the disclaimer that the real tournament starts with the quarterfinals beginning Wednesday has been run innumerable times, there is something to be said about building momentum and hitting the groove. India hasn't done that, yet.

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So far, India has scored the least number of goals. It also has the second-worst goal difference behind Spain but the latter also has two registered two wins in the three games it has played here. And when it comes to penalty corners, India ranks at the bottom in terms of conversion percentage with just one success in 13 attempts (7.86%).

Dutch legend Floris Jan Bovelander, without taking names, indicated that the measure of a successful player was when he scores in crunch situtations. “India has a couple of good ones but you have to score goals at the right moment. That makes you special and really good. You have to score in crunch games. Then you are good,” he said.

The good ones he spoke about include Rupinderpal Singh and Harmanpreet Singh with Varun Kumar, Amit Rohidas and Dipsan Tirkey to complete the quintet. Of these, three have not registered any tries so far. Rupinder has been a bit rusty coming back from injury and Harmanpreet seems to be concentrating more on his defensive duties.

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Former India skipper and drag-flick expert V. R. Raghunath, who has been out of the national scheme of things since the Rio Olympics, feels India needs to be more aggressive and proactive on field. “The players have to be more attacking in every department. Whether it's the forwards attempting goals or PCs or the drag-flickers executing them, I would like to see more aggression. They need to read the PC situations during the match, not before or after, and try and keep the goalkeepers guessing,” he suggested.

Sounds logical but India has so far refrained from trying anything new. There have been no variations tried – only direct hits at the goal and that too mostly low shots – and no attempts made to surprise the goalkeepers. A senior player suggested that, barring the senior pros like Argentina's Juan Vivaldi or George Pinner from England, most of the goalkeepers here were new and young but India made them look good.

“We are playing very good till the attacking 25 yard, but tend to pull back and hesitate after that, I don't know why. The team seems a bit nervous and playing too safe for its own good. The PC attack has been very predictable, there is no challenge for the 'keepers, and the flickers seem to be going where the opposition wants them to go rather than controlling the shots,” he added.

Not that the strikers have scored much, despite creating chances galore. But former coach AB Subbaiah seconded that the team needed to be more attacking. “We need to play attacking hockey till the end. Our boys against England looked slow and in defensive mode from the very beginning,” he said.

It's early days yet and the team may still sort its problems out. But the lack of creativity and experimentation in the league games – which rendered the perfect opportunity to do so – would be a concern.

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