Indian forwards fail to seize chances

AS the means to preparing the team for the tough pre-Olympic qualifier at Madrid early next month, the significance of the three-Test Naval Tata hockey series for India against the Olympic champion, the Netherlands, at Hyderabad needs no reiteration.

S. THYAGARAJAN

A beaming Holland captain, Jeroen Delmee, holding the Naval Tata Memorial Trophy. Others from right are: K. Jyothikumaran, Secretary General, IHF, K. P. S. Gill, President, IHF, Ms Simone Tata, Chairperson and Director Tata Industries. -- Pic. K. GAJENDRAN-

AS the means to preparing the team for the tough pre-Olympic qualifier at Madrid early next month, the significance of the three-Test Naval Tata hockey series for India against the Olympic champion, the Netherlands, at Hyderabad needs no reiteration. True, India lost the series 0-2, capitulating in the second and third after going dutch 1-1 in the first Test, but the contests facilitated in identifying the deficient areas as also the strengths that must be enhanced.

That India went down by the narrowest of margins is some consolation although a proper evaluation would focus on the failure of the frontline to seize a handful of chances created by the mid-field in all the three Tests. It was the consistency, craft and charm of the mid-field that were the highpoints of the series, generating hope and confidence. The combination of Vikram Pillay, Bimal Lakra, Viren Resquinha and Ignace Tirkey was the cornerstone of the team, supported, of course, by the efficient and energetic work of the deep defence of Dilip Tirkey and Kanwalpreet Singh. No praise is too high for the role that goal-keeper Devesh Chauhan played in all the three Tests. The way in which he blunted the drag flicks of the dreaded Taeke Taekema in the first Test illustrated Devesh's improvement in athleticism and anticipation.

Vikram Pllay had an outstanding series, almost taking the hero's tag in every contest. Ebullient and energetic, Vikram showed no inhibitions in pushing himself into the thick of the tackles from wherever the Dutch moves showed signs of flowering. His interceptions, be it from the swerving runs of Teun de Nooijer, or the dash and dribble of Ronald Brauwer, or the swift runs of Floris Evers, were eye catching. It was in the fitness of things that Vikram Pillay won the best player of the series award.

Viren Resquinha makes a last minute clearance even as Rob Derrikx menacingly advances in the second Test. -- Pic. K.GAJENDRAN-

The adivasi duo, Ignace Tirkey and Bimal Lakra, played with great assurance. Notwithstanding a painful hit on the back of the neck from a clearance, Ignace was gallant enough to comeback and take his place after medical attention in the first Test. And, what more, in the second game, he was confidence personified in his tackles. As an attacking pivot, Bimal Lakra, impressed with his beautiful forward passes in the final game. It was a pity that the frontline failed to take advantage of the openings Bimal fashioned through the well organised Dutch defence.

After raising some expectations following the draw in the first Test — thanks to a superb running goal by Gagan Ajit Singh for the equaliser — the frontline flopped, lacking in flair, fluency and finesse. Never before did the Indians feel the absence of the effective playmaker, Dhanraj Pillay, or the elan of Deepak Thakur. It was true that Baljit Singh Dhillon contributed a bit in that direction but he was unpredictable inside the circle. A lot was expected from Prabhjot Singh on the wing, but an injury on the forehead on the opening day forced him to skip the second. He was not in the best of form in the final although he managed to slot the only goal for the home team late in the contest. Strangely, Gagan Ajit Singh was too subdued after that first Test goal.

Where the frontline failed to pose the threat was in not falling into a rhythm of consistency. Work from the flanks was totally absent. Arjun Halappa strove manfully but was too well marked in that area. On the left flank, Prabhjot Singh was below par. Coach Rajinder Singh also suffered from not having enough bench strength to bolster this link. Barring Tejbir Singh to some extent, the rest, Inderjit Singh and Didar Singh, failed to convince many that they are national level material. Hopes of Len Aiyappa, or even Dilip Tirkey, converting penal<147,1,7>ty corners were never realised. The tough and well positioned Dutch defence, not to speak of the twin goal-keepers, Guus Vogels and Klaas Veering, offered very little space for the strikers, who neither demonstrated power nor variation. India had only nine penalty corners and the two goals that surfaced were not direct hits.

Teun de Nooijer scoring one of his two goals in the third Test which Holland won 2-1. -- Pic. K.GAJENDRAN-

Not unnaturally, the Dutch coach from Australia, Terry Walsh, was elated by the final outcome although he was disappointed by the failure of Taeke Taekema in the opening day, when the team failed to score more than one out of eight penalty corners. But the Dutch are so well structured on the field that they recovered quickly and controlled the trend in the next two matches.

Displaying the essence of direct hockey laced with strategic inputs, the Dutch showed unmistakable qualities of a champion side. They dictated the pace of the contests and showed perfection in trapping and passing. Jeroen Delmee, the veteran skipper, controlled the mid-field skilfully prompting the frontline to be on its toes always. In Teun de Nooijer, the Dutch had a world class star, who received excellent support from Floris Evers and Ronald Brauwer. The load on Delmee was well shared by Piet Geeris and Greet Dericks, while in the deep defence Bram Lomans and Taeke Taekema guarded the zone with absolute assurance. Some of the interceptions of Lomans inside the circle were exemplary.

In a nutshell, the series went in favour of the team that was more professional and proficient in skills as well as in strategies.

Prabhjot Singh is about to stop Taeke Taekema's shot in the drawn first Test. -- Pic. K. RAMESH BABU-

The resumption of the Test series after 26 years clearly underlined the rewards of bilateral combats. And associating the renowed business house, Tatas with it is probably the best that has happened to Indian hockey. The Naval Tata Trophy, named after the first Indian President of the Indian Hockey Federation, symbolises the dedication and dynamism of a genuine sports lover and promoter under whom Indian hockey saw the golden age of independent India from 1948 to 56.

There was an emotional touch to the whole scene when Ms. Simone Tata, wife of Naval Tata, went on stage to present the trophy to the Dutch captain, Delmee.

It was also a wonderful gesture on the part of Tatas to award a cash prize of Rs. one lakh to the 11 Olympic captains, and three Olympians who are part of the Tata Group.

The results:

February 5: First Test: Netherlands 1 (Taeke Taekema) drew with India 1 (Gagan Ajit Singh).

February 7: Second Test: Netherlands 2 (Bram Lomans, Taeke Taekema) beat India 1 (Baljit Singh Dhillon).

February 8: Third Test: Netherlands 2 ( Teun di Nooijer) beat India 1 (Prabhjot Singh).