The sprinkling of Olympians and internationals in the participating teams made the hockey event of the 36th National Games an engrossing affair. Haryana, possessing numerous international-level players, expectedly won the women’s crown while Karnataka men ended the 21-year wait for title in the National Games.
The Karnataka team had a mix of Olympians and talented players and beat Uttar Pradesh 7-6 in the shootout after teams were level 2-2 at the end of regular time. Though Karnataka beat Uttar Pradesh 4-2 in a league match, the final saw Uttar Pradesh play a tactically defensive game to snatch a 2-1 lead, and it needed a last ditch effort from the southern State to take the match into the shootout.
Karnataka coach and former international V. S.Vinaya, while glossing over his team triumph, was unhappy that his side couldn’t convert any penalty corners in the match. While Karnataka failed to score any, Uttar Pradesh managed to convert one penalty corner in the final. But overall, the penalty corner conversion by teams in the tournament in both sections left a lot to be desired.
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The women’s final saw Haryana earn at least 10 penalty corners but all of them were wasted. Yogita Bali under the Punjab bar was outstanding, but Haryana’s internationals lacked ideas to put the ball into the net and there were hardly any variations in the penalty corner drills. Seeing the struggles of teams to score off penalty corners in the National Games, it was a no-brainer to find the reason for the poor conversion rate of the Indian women’s team in international tournaments. Indian women’s coach Jenneke Schopman, who was watching the proceedings, would have taken note of this and will be working on this area of weakness.
Another worrying factor was needless fouls committed by defenders which invariably led to a loth of penalty corners being awarded in the matches. It was understandable when Haryana was playing as its 10 internationals packed too many guns for the rival opposition. However, the men’s matches also saw abnormally high instances of penalty corners being awarded.
But when it came to conversion, all the teams came a cropper. Drag flick, which has become an integral part of modern hockey, was forgotten in the National Games. Every team had a specialist drag flicker but none of them had the consistency or the power to put the ball into the net. One could count the number of goals scored through drag flicks in the whole tournament.
Dilip Tirkey, the new president of Hockey India, had said that the priority was to find good drag flickers as historically India had done well at international level when it had good drag flickers. But the National Games didn’t unearth any new talent.
On the other hand, Karnataka’s triumph will definitely boost hockey in the State which has produced many Olympians, including the current captain S. V. Sunil. Coach Vinaya opined that more players from his State will get a chance to represent India in future. With Tamil Nadu reaching the finals of the national men’s championships a few months ago, the southern States are beginning to make their presence felt.
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