Waltzing Matilda

The Australian men swept to their third straight gold medal and the women regained it, thereby demonstrating the awesome power of the country. For the Indian men though, the Games underlined yet again the futility of living in history, writes S. Thyagarajan.

It was an all-Australian affair. The men retained their gold and the women regained it, thereby demonstrating the awesome power of the country. Barry Dancer and his gallant 16 used the Games to showcase their unquestionable talent, technique and tactics. The cold statistics of 29 goals in six matches conveys only the dominance — it masks the elegance of a combination whose athleticism and aesthetic quality must be witnessed than read.

It is not as if the Aussies have emerged overnight. They have been a force since the 1970s. Now, though, they are riding the crest of a wave of euphoria. The Olympic gold medallists and Champions Trophy holders, who were also the winners in the two previous editions of the Commonwealth Games, waltzed to a hat-trick of wins beating Pakistan 3-0 in the final.

Australia played flawlessly. The one player in its ranks who constantly evoked admiration was Jamie Dwyer. Twice voted the Player of the Year by the FIH, Dwyer is injury prone. His presence for the full tournament was in doubt after the first match against Scotland. He is the dream of any coach. Give Dwyer the ball and the action unfolds. In a flash he is there. The way he weaved in and out was a spectacle to behold. He was the despair of the rival defences, as the Pakistanis would readily testify.

Nathan Eglington and Mike McCann gave support to Dwyer. In the midfield, the tireless work of Brent Livermore, Rob Hammond and Bevan George was commendable. Livermore's third gold could not have been sweeter. Two days before the final his wife Belinda gave birth to their second child, Zoe. The Australian camp was too delighted that they flew him to Gold Coast to be with wife and child for a few hours before returning in time for the final.

Pakistan's image was seriously damaged in Melbourne. It is not that the team played poor hockey. But it acquired the needless tag of being a `dangerous' squad. Tariq Aziz, an outstanding forward, received a unilateral two-match ban from the Tournament Director, Eric Donegani, for injuring a South African defender. Then, in the final, he had a red card punched against him by the Irish umpire, Hutchinson, for a tackle that gave Rob Hammond a nasty cut on the lip. The Aussie walked out blood oozing, with the crowd giving exclamations. What is more, two Prime Ministers — John Howard of Australia and Tony Blair of Britain — were watching the action.

Pakistan gave moments to savour as well, such as the two brilliant goals that Shakeel Abbasi scored — the second was a golden one — against England when the team was struggling. Abbasi was outstanding. His approach, style, and finish bring to mind Hassan Sardar in his heyday. Mudassar and Shabbir were impressive too. But the defence was a let-down.

Imran's timely penalty corner against South Africa got Pakistan a draw when everything pointed to a defeat. The 6-5 win against Malaysia lost its flavour because the team was leading 4-1 and 5-2. Goalkeeper Salam Akbar let in many a Malaysian penalty corner. India was, therefore, out of the tournament and Malaysia got in through a better goal-aggregate.

Malaysia deserved its bronze. The team compensated its limitations with its self-belief. The squad approached the contests with confidence and used the experience of Kuhen, Nor Azlan Baker and Chua Boon Huat to the hilt. Youngster Abu Ibrahim and goal-keeper Nasihin deserve a pat for their roles.

England's attack was stunning. Attackers Simon Mantall and Matt Daly contributed to the vigour as much as Bret Gerrard and Ben Hawkes in midfield. Only the golden goal by Shakeel Abbasi stopped England's march to the final.

The Kiwis — fifth in the rating — were not flashy but played well within themselves, banking on the opportunism of Bevan Hari and proficiency of Ryan Archbald in the midfield. The golden goal by Phil Burrows sealed India's fate in the classification.

With a pathetic frontline it was not a surprise that India finished the way it did. From day one, when India drew Malaysia, the writing was on the wall. Regrettably, no effort was made to eliminate the errors. With the coach's input being minimal, the Indian attack could do nothing right. Goalkeeper Chetri and wing half Prabodh Tirkey should be given some credit for their efforts. The seven-goal haul of Sandeep Singh to emerge as top-scorer was the silver lining.

The Indian women's performance offered a sharp contrast. Their fortitude in fighting the whimsical umpiring decisions in the early stages must be complimented. They were on the verge of defeat against South Africa, trailing 0-2, but came back into the match and the tournament levelling the score. Against Australia in the opening game, the girls put up a spirited fight, leading 2-1 at one point. That it was a 0-1 verdict against them in the final, is another example of the team's competence and ability to fight.

Goalkeeper Helen Innocent, mid-fielder Subhadra Pradhan and inside forward Jasjeet Handa were outstanding.

The match-winner Surinder Kaur scored against New Zealand in the semifinal was a beauty. The star trio of Saba Anjum, Sanggai Maimom and Mamta Kharab did not perform well consistently as was expected of them.

Nikki Hudson — one of the three top scorers with five goals — Sarah Taylor and Angela Skirving lent solidity to the Aussies. Fittingly enough, Nikki Hudson scored the match-winner amidst vociferous cheers. "You always know finals are not pretty matches to watch. We have a lot of respect for India, they were tough today," said Nikki.

Two-time silver medallist England managed only a bronze, and that too in a penalty shootout against New Zealand. For Indian women, hockey at the Commonwealth Games produced a mixture of joy and anguish. For the men, it underlined yet again the futility of living in history.

MEN'S RESULTS

Pool A: Australia beat Scotland 5-1; bt. Canada 5-1; bt. England 5-1; bt. New Zealand 5-2; England bt. New Zealand 4-3; bt. Canada 4-1, bt. Scotland 3-1; New Zealand bt. Canada 4-1; bt. Scotland 5-0; Scotland bt. Canada 2-0.

Pool B: Pakistan bt. India 4-1; drew with South Africa 1-1; bt. Trinidad and Tobago 7-1; bt. Malaysia 6-5; Malaysia drew with India 1-1; bt. Trinidad and Tobago 8-0; bt. South Africa 2-1; India bt. Trinidad and Tobago 10-1; bt. South Africa 2-0; South Africa bt. Trinidad and Tobago 6-1.

Table of Points (read as played, won, drawn, lost, goals for, goals against, points):

Pool A: Australia 4, 4, 0, 0, 20, 5, 12; England 4, 3, 0, 1, 13, 10, 9; New Zealand 4, 2, 0, 2, 14, 10, 6; Scotland 4, 1, 0, 3, 4, 13, 3; Canada 4, 0, 0, 4, 3, 16, 3; Pool B: Pakistan 4, 3, 1, 0, 18, 8, 10; Malaysia 4, 2, 1, 1, 16, 8, 7; India 4, 2, 1, 1, 14, 6, 7; South Africa 4, 1, 1, 2, 8, 6, 4; Trinidad and Tobago 4, 0, 0, 4, 3, 31, 0.

The results:

Semifinals: Australia bt. Malaysia 6-0; Pakistan bt. England 2-1 (golden goal); Classification: Places 9-10: Canada bt. Trinidad and Tobago 2-0; Places 7-8: Scotland bt. South Africa 2-1; Places 5-6: New Zealand bt. India 2-1 (golden goal): Places 3-4: Malaysia bt. England 2-0; Final: Australia bt. Pakistan 3-0.

WOMEN'S RESULTS

Pool A: Australia bt. India 4-2; bt. Malaysia 8-0; bt. Nigeria 12-0; bt. South Africa 3-0; India drew with South Africa 2-2; bt. Nigeria 8-0; bt. Malaysia 6-1; Malaysia bt. Nigeria 4-0 bt. South Africa 2-1; South Africa bt. Nigeria 4-1; Pool B: New Zealand bt. Scotland 2-1; bt. Canada 3-0; bt. Barbados 11-0; bt. England 4-0; England bt. Canada 5-0; bt. Scotland 5-0; bt. Barbados 10-0; Scotland bt. Canada 2-1; bt. Barbados 8-0; Canada bt. Barbados 4-0.

Table of points (read as played, won, drawn, lost, goals for, goals against, points):

Pool A: Australia 4, 4, 0, 0, 27, 2, 12; India 4, 2, 1, 1, 18, 7, 7; Malaysia 4, 2, 0, 2, 7, 15, 6; South Africa 4, 1, 1, 2, 7, 8, 4; Nigeria 4, 0, 0, 4, 1, 28, 0. Pool B: New Zealand 4, 4, 0, 0, 20, 1, 12; England 4, 3, 0, 1, 20, 4, 9; Scotland 4, 2, 0, 2, 11, 8, 6; Canada 4, 1, 0, 3, 5, 10, 3; Barbados 4, 0, 0, 4, 0, 33, 0; Classification matches: Places 9-10: Barbados bt. Nigeria 4-1; Places 7-8: South Africa bt. Canada 5-2; Places 5-6: Scotland bt. Malaysia 3-0; Semifinals: Australia bt. England 3-0; India beat New Zealand 1-0; Final: Australia bt. India 1-0.