Ipoh: There's only defeat in waiting when you play the way India did on Friday. It was hustling hockey under the pressure of scoring. No design. No structure. Just a hustle to grab possession, roll the ball and ram into a Malaysian. Eventually the game saw a goal. But not from India. Malaysia scored the only strike of the 60-minute game, that can be put up as a tutorial on how not to play hockey.
Unfortunately India chose the worst day to go off-colour. Their chance to have a shot at the trophy hinged on a win against Malaysia, but in a certain manner. A victory by a two-goal margin was what India required to outrun Great Britain in the race to the final of Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, here. But it didn't happen. What transpired was a 1-0 win for Malaysia and India were left to play New Zealand for bronze.
Five wasted penalty corners, just one shot at goal in first 20 minutes and a whole lot of unforced errors. India were at their shoddiest best with nothing going their way.
India's performance hit rock bottom in the last 10 minutes on Friday. The wheels came off after Malaysia scored from a penalty corner in the 51st minute. It was a race against the clock as India needed a minimum of 2-1 victory to push it to a stage where the second finalist would have been decided in a shootout with Great Britain. Forget about scoring, India, playing with a kicking-back and no goalkeeper, came up with schoolboy stuff.
The defence held firm in the first 30 minutes, allowing not even a single shot at goal to the Malaysians. But the central midfield — majorly manned by Manpreet Singh, Sardar Singh and Harjeet Singh — wasn't executing.
Their passes were being regularly and easily intercepted, while the cutting through balls remained absent. Sardar had otherwise had a good tournament, but it was not his day.
In that list is also veteran SV Sunil, who has been off the boil for a while. The right winger did not have a particularly good Hockey India League and here too he's been scrambling for possession rather than controlling it. He has been easily dispossessed and never been in control of the ball speed and run he's known for.
And when the pressure mounts, the whole structure cames crumbling down together.
"I am disappointed by our execution of skills today, our decision-making and penalty-corner execution," Oltmans said. But surprisingly, he didn't take the defeat on his chin, like he normally does. Instead, he looked like finding an excuse.
"This is not the world cup or Olympic Games; this is Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, which is a good test. We want to test ourselves in certain areas. If that drops down a bit at this moment, okay," he said at the press conference.
It's good when a coach puts his weight behind his players. But it appears unjustified when it's a player whose performance has dipped considerably and affecting team's objectives.
"We take certain decision on penalty corners. Of course, we can do different things as well, but we did not do it. For sure, Rupinder in the next tournament will score goals like he did in the Asian Champions Trophy. He will score again, don't worry about that," Oltmans said.
But the fact of the matter is that India didn't deliver when it mattered, and it's not happened for the first time. In fact, it's what ails Indian hockey.
So is it that we still crack up and not get cracking under pressure? Is that what still separates India from the top teams? Certainly.
A new season may have just started, but some harsh calls will have to be taken before India head to London for the FIH Hockey World League semifinals.