Bhubaneshwar / New Delhi. Former Indian hockey stalwarts on Tuesday criticized the national team for its “average” performance in the World Cup, which crashed out of the quarter-finals after losing to New Zealand in a crossover match. Former stalwarts said this poor performance stalled the momentum the country had gained after winning a historic bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. India entered the tournament with the intention of finishing on the podium in the World Cup for the first time since winning the gold medal in 1975, but lost to New Zealand in sudden death in the crossover match.
The hosts will play 9th to 16th place classification matches in Rourkela on Thursday and Saturday. Ashok Kumar, a member of the 1975 World Cup gold medal-winning team, said that Indians lack a level playing field and are far below top nations in all departments of the game. He said that the team was given every kind of support, six to seven months camp, foreign experience, top class infrastructure, best food, what more could have been done? And what did he perform? You didn’t even reach the quarter-finals in front of your fans in the home World Cup.
Ashok Kumar said it had a lot to do with the level of the players, after all the defeat was due to average players playing average games. You can’t win a medal in the World Cup with this. This former player said that I do not know how the players were trained, there was no creative pass. They didn’t know what to do. If you can’t score more than four goals against a team like Wales, what are you doing?
He said that due to lack of field goals, they had to rely on penalty corners and there was a lot of pressure on Harmanpreet Singh and he failed. We could not perform well in all departments of the game. Barring Akashdeep Singh, I would say none of the (outfield) players played well in the four matches. Asked if there should be a change in the coaching staff, Ashok Kumar, who scored the winning goal against arch-rivals Pakistan in the 1975 World Cup final, said: “We have had many foreign coaches in the past but after 1975 we have had few foreign coaches in the World Cup.” What is achievement? So please tell me what would be the difference if we had Indian coach. Indian coaches at least don’t perform worse.
Former captain Sardar Singh said that this defeat has happened due to the collective failure of the team. He said that hockey is a team sport. If you want to win a tournament, 14 to 15 players in the team need to perform at 70 to 80 percent, which did not show in this World Cup. The veteran midfielder, who is part of the Hockey India selection committee, said Hardik’s injury was a big blow as he was a key player in the midfield. Apart from scoring one goal (against Spain), he also created chances in partnership with the forwards. Sardar also agreed that Harmanpreet felt the pressure of captaincy as he missed consecutive penalty corners.
He said that he (Harmanpreet) felt the pressure of captaincy, that too in a home World Cup. He is one of the best drag-flickers in the world and also did well in the Test series against Australia. The former player said, “But he did not show his best level, maybe he was feeling the pressure. On head coach Graham Reid’s demand for a mental conditioning coach, Sardar said if he (Reid) felt like it, he should have raised the demand after the Olympics. Hockey India and SAI are providing all necessary help to the team and they would have completed the same.
Hockey India president and former captain Dilip Tirkey said it was very disappointing not to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup after a high level performance at the Tokyo Olympics less than two years ago. He said, “Some players from whom we had high hopes, they could not perform well. We all have accepted it. We got a lot of penalty corners but could only convert a few of them. There was something lacking in our defensive set-up as well.