Penalty corner defence: A dangerous trade to ply

Regardless of the many protective gear on offer, one needs to brave and technically perfect to defend a penalty corner.

England players getting ready for a penalty corner during their quarterfinal match against Germany in the Junior World Cup hockey tournament at Major Dhyan Chand Stadium in Lucknow.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

The incident of Dabang Mumbai player Robbert Kempermann getting hit off a deflection while saving a penalty corner against Ranchi Rays in a Hockey India League match the other night has again highlighted the dangers associated with the job.

Thankfully, the ball hit Kempermann's mask and the Dutch recuperated from the impact to take the field following a short break.

Kempermann was not the only one who got affected by penalty corner shots. Ranchi's Manpreet Singh had a deep cut and Sumit broke his shin guard while defending short corners against Uttar Pradesh Wizards.

“It is dangerous,” says Ranchi coach > Harendra Singh. “That's why the International Hockey Federation (FIH) has allowed so many protective gears.”

At a time when protective gears were not in vogue, one remembers, Dilip Tirkey being hit on his temple off a fierce Sohail Abbas flick during an India-Pakistan Test match at the National Stadium in Delhi in 2004 and missing the next two.

Harendra cites the incident of goalkeeper Adrian D'Souza getting injured by a Sandeep Singh drag-flick in a Mumbai Marathas-Chennai Veerans match in the 2004 Premier Hockey League and being hospitalised.

No doubt, one needs to have a big heart to be in the firing line of drag-flickers. “You need to be very brave. Not everyone is made for it. You need to be technically correct as well. Half the battle is wanting to be in that position. There are a lot of guys who say it is an important part of their job.

 

“The ball comes very hard, maybe somewhere between 100-115km per hour. Back in the older days they used to hit the ball a lot harder. Dutchman (Floris Jan) Bovelander used to hit the ball at 130 to 140 kmph. I used to be a penalty corner hitter, so I hope it remains,” says Dabang Mumbai coach Jason Stacy.

According to Harendra, one must learn penalty corner defence techniques early. “It's important to teach the techniques from grassroots level. Unfortunately, in our country we don't give much importance to this. Players get to know these techniques when they start playing competitive tournaments or join the National camp.”

In Australia, Stacy says, the coaches pick young players who are eager to take the responsibility. “When there is a big camp and there are 40 people, then you say, 'Okay, who wants to be the first runner, who wants to be the second runner, who wants to be the postman?' Then they practise that skill like they practise trapping, passing, overheads and other skills.”

Harendra suggests that rules can be tweaked to make short corners a safer affair for the defenders.

“Even (Australian legend Ric) Charlesworth was vocal against penalty corners. In the nine-a-side tournament, which was conducted in Perth, he gave an innovative idea of converting penalty corners – taking it from 23 yards with only three players defending. So, there is no direct flick into the goal. People come to see goals and skill in hockey,” says Harendra.