The host has it easy

S. THYAGARAJAN

The victorious Australian team. -- Pic. AFP-

THE Australians must be wondering what real benefit they had from the twin four-nation hockey tournaments. They won both at Canberra and Sydney with consummate ease. The opposition — India, South Africa and Malaysia — was weak. Australia beat India at Canberra 3-0 and Malaysia 7-1 at Sydney in the finals. The margins clearly showed the chasm that divides the home team from the rest.

Coach Barry Dancer may be a confused man before naming the 16 for the Athens Games. The flood of goals — the Aussies had 35 — definitely gave a false image of the Aussie strength. Over 20 players were exposed in the twin editions. Which 16 will come under the tickmark of Barry Dancer remains to be seen.

A point that a pragmatist as Barry Dancer would concede is that the Aussies too were inconsistent. The flavour and fervour were somewhat subdued, though not totally missing. The only time the Aussies looked vulnerable was in the 2-2 draw against India at Sydney. The equaliser by Travis Brookes surfaced a minute before the hooter. All the other matches at both venues were a cake-walk.

The positive signs were the return to form of Micheal Brennen at Sydney, and the ability of Jaime Dwyer to come good after a knee reconstruction. Jaime Dwyer, one of the outstanding Aussie stars at the last World Cup, suffered a severe knee injury at the last Champions Trophy in Amstelveen and had to be rested. Micheal Brennen had decided to hang his stick two years ago.

What the Aussies failed to display was the sizzling systematisation. Several loose ends were visible. The midfield work, minus that of Brent Livermore, was in a low-key. The frontline was more individualistic even though players like Mike McCann, Travis Brooks, Adam Commens and Grant Schubert figured among the scorers. The penalty corner conversion too was unimpressive. The team does not have a striker in the calibre of Jay Stacy. Andrew Smith or Matthew Wells cannot be spoken off in the same vein.

India was expected to figure in both finals, and win at least one. It did neither. Outplayed at Canberra 0-3, after a 0-5 reverse in the league, India failed even to figure among the top three in Sydney.

The causes for concern are numerous. How effectively the chief coach and the administration that is backing Rajinder Singh to the hilt will review them remains a matter of conjecture.

The quality oscillated, underlining a lack of a well documented approach work for each match. In every layer, there was no cohesion. The attempt to blood raw youth, whose credentials to be part of the national team should itself be reviewed, flopped, and miserably at that. Barring Inderjit Kumar, the rest have nothing in them to be projected on the international scene now.

Coach Rajinder Singh has reasons to be dejected. His faith in Gagan Ajit Singh and Deepak Thakur did not come good. The injury to Prabhjot Singh, who missed the Sydney edition, accentuated the frailty of the frontline. Only Arjun Halappa showed some craft; but he too flopped in the crucial encounter against South Africa when India slipped to the fourth place.

Indian goal-keeper Devesh Chauhan clears the ball as Inderjit Kumar looks on in the third place match against South Africa in Sydney. South Africa won 1-0. -- Pic. AFP-

Viren Resquinha, nursing an injury, carried on gallantly along with Ignace Tirkey and Bimal Lakra. But the midfield was poor when it came to creating openings. The knee problem for Kanwalpreet Singh compelled the coach to use the inexperienced Harpal Singh, whose two errors caused the defeat against Malaysia in the first match at Sydney. That proved disastrous as the final results showed.

Neither of the goal-keepers, Devesh Chauhan or Bharat Chetri, did anything inspiring. For one exposed to many internationals, the inconsistency of Devesh was disappointing.

The failure to make an impression at the Azlan Shah event in January, the struggle waged in Madrid qualifier, and the deplorable show in Australia only confirm that a lot more needs to be assessed and acted upon before the summit at Athens.

Malaysia may have suffered two horrendous defeats, 0-9 at Canberra and 7-1 in the Sydney final. But it had the satisfaction of beating India and South Africa. These were definite indications of a regeneration after the nightmare at Madrid. Kuhen and his men showed the ardour to stay in the fray. No one symbolised this than the irrepressible Chua Boon Huat. Kevin Raj in the midfield and Nor Baker in the deep defence also deserve a special mention.

The South Africans, the substitute for Japan in the competitions, displayed a noticeable verve in their approach. Expectedly, the veteran, Greg Nicol, led the assault, both in the frontline and in the penalty corners. Greg Clark and Key Forbes were the others to impress.

A fulsome praise for Hockey Australia and its enthusiastic administrators should not be deemed an exaggeration. The annual twin tournaments have acquired a status for their professionalism. They contribute largely to keeping the interest of the game alive in the Oceania region.

The administrative work by Trent Thomas of Hockey Australia and Matthew Slade, the Media Officer, deserves the commendation of one and all.

At Canberra:

Australia beat South Africa 4-2; beat India 5-0; beat Malaysia 9-0; India beat Malaysia 4-1; beat South Africa 6-4; Malaysia beat South Africa 3-2; (3-4 places) South Africa beat Malayais 2-1. Final: Australia beat India 3-0.

Final positions: 1. Australia, 2. India, 3. South Africa, 4. Malaysia.

At Sydney:

Australia beat South Africa 5-2; drew India 2-2; beat Malaysia 5-1; Malaysia beat India 3-0; beat South Africa 2-1; India beat South Africa 4-3; (3-4) South Africa beat India 1-0. Final: Australia beat Malaysia 7-1.

Final positions: 1, Australia, 2. Malaysia, 3. South Africa, 4. India.