Has India’s chief hockey coach Jose Brasa led the Pakistanis up the garden path by repeatedly saying that the Indians should not set a rollicking pace like they did in their last meeting and tire themselves out in their World Cup match on Sunday?
If the Spaniard has done it by design only to send the Pakistanis on a wrong scent, it was a master stroke executed in the way Sandeep Singh struck his penalty-corner hits after his teammates set out off a terrific pace.
Brasa kept saying that the Indians made the mistake of trying to finish their match against the Pakistanis in double quick time at Salta, Argentina, and the result was they were swamped 6-3 at the Champions Challenge.
Before someone pipes up to say that the Pakistanis were overawed by the near full-house at the majestic Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium under floodlights, it should be remembered that at the same venue, which overflowed on a mild winter afternoon 28 years ago, Pakistanis pumped in seven goals and the Indians could only knock in one. The victory should also set India’s track record against top teams at major events like the World Cup and the Olympics.
In India-Pakistan matches, the victory is always great and the defeat is disgraceful. And in victory all sins are washed off. The victory is cause for celebration, but it should also be remembered that it is only a beginning and Australia, England and Spain are waiting for us. If their performance against the Spaniards is any pointer, even the South Africans can be handful.
Sandeep put the victory in perspective after receiving the man-of-the-match award for his splendid strikes, one of which brooked no response and the other presented Shivendra Singh a rebound to hit home.
He said his team has to replicate the performance in the other group games. What he did not say was the simple mistakes like poor imagination in the striking area and losing possession of the ball for unaccountable reasons can cost much. If all the chances were grabbed and some more were created when in position to do so, they would have wiped out the 1-7 humiliation.
A victory is always credited to the team work. Yet, some individuals produce that x factor. Yes, the Indians for once looked determined whereas the Pakistanis looked totally lost. To make matters worse for them, the game’s greatest drag-flicker found the crossbar twice before changing the direction and striking the board.
But there were no ifs and buts in the way Gurbaz Singh, Vikram Pillay and Dhananjay Mahadik played their hearts out in spoiling the threatening Pakistani moves. Shivendra and Prabhjot can justifiably take credit for the two goals they scored, but Deepak Thakur and Tushar Khandekar would be thinking if only they could thrust their sticks in the right time and in the right angle to deflect the ball towards goal.
The Holi revelry has begun and the Indians do not have anything stronger to intoxicate them tonight than the heady feeling they had as they headed home celebrating right through the way. But with a sobering thought, that it is just the beginning and still a long way to go.
(The writer is sports editor at IANS. He can be contacted at email@example.com)