With a gap of ten spots separating the three-time Olympic gold medallists Australia (ranked third) and one-time Olympic participant, India (ranked 13th), the odds were stacked against one side from the very beginning. And when the score-line flashed 6-1 at the final buzzer, out-played was an expression that could apply to only one team – India.
Not picking at straws, but the match against Australia was an opportunity to become obsessed with the obsessives. It was a moment where India could have played freely, mixing skills with tight man-to-man marking and sticking to the ball like gum to steel.
After opening the scoring in the fourth minute off a penalty corner, by Kathryn Slattery, Georgina Morgan got the second one, again off a penalty corner. Two field goals followed, scored by Jane Claxton and Georgina Parker. Jodie Kenny got the last two, one off a stroke and the last off a penalty corner. India got their consolation goal with eight seconds remaining when Anuradha Thokchom smashed it in.
In today’s hockey, with four quarters, you play four matches inside a bigger match and India threw away that chance. Once Sushila, the Indian captain, realized that the team was 0-4 down, caution should have been dumped and the midfield should've been opened up. But India, in erroneously trying to match Australia, didn’t do any favours for itself. Consistency is a virtue, and only a few players strive to attain it.
Australia, finalists at the 2014 World Cup but fifth at the last three Olympics, are in the process of rebuilding and it showed when they lost their first two matches to Great Britain and the United States by an identical margin of 1-2.
For Australia, losing another match was out of the question and they required a big win margin, to improve their goal difference. It also meant playing with ambition and giving up space to create those moves. In other words, India had the perfect opportunity to exploit the gaps. Surprisingly, the team didn’t respond.
Throughout the match, momentum was missing. Errors were being committed like it was part of the game plan. Australia’s third goal came after four Indian players couldn’t trap the ball cleanly – one player after the other failing to trap, till the ball rolled free to an eager and surprised Jane Claxton, who swept it into the goal.
Savita, the Indian goalkeeper, kept up a lone battle. Coming out, using the pads to good effect and throwing herself to the right to bring off a brilliant penalty corner save. Though she couldn’t keep India in the match; she did, however, ward off major humiliation to the side.
It’s a match not many in the side would be proud of. Rani Rampal was missing. Whether it’s an injury or just disinterest, the team management would be better off to find out. It’s a general rule that when things are not moving upfront, good forwards try and come back to pick up the ball and create moves.
On Wednesday, that job was splendidly done by Vandana Katariya. Her vision was good and she was sweeping into midfield positions, switching in from the flanks. The second quarter was the only period where no goals were scored and India conceded only one penalty corner. Playing under such pressure, as Australia was pressing hard, the defenders did a good job with Deepika, Namita Toppo, Sushila and Sunita Lakra.
Australia had eight penalty corners to India’s two. India created a last assault, creditably coming with the midfield and forwards trying one last time to extract some positives out of the match, to be able to walk off with some pride intact.
A goalmouth skirmish and the ball rose off the Aussie goalkeeper, Rachael Lynch, but as the Australian defenders hesitated for a second, Thokchom Anuradha seized the opportunity to smash the ball in. Australia did go for a referral, pointing to dangerous play, but the video umpire overruled it and gave the goal to India.
India left the pitch on a mini-high. But they would know, including, of course Coach Neil Hawgood, that the match wasn’t one of missed chances; it was a game where the Indian women could have tested themselves by showing some heart, a few of them for sure.
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Updated Date: Aug 11, 2016 11:13:11 IST