India Fight Back To Equalise 3-3

India-Pakistan Hockey Series, Rawalpindi

India 3 Pakistan 3

By Sundeep Misra

Facing a deficit of 0-3, India fought back brilliantly to equalize 3-3 and clinch the Warid Cup at the Army Hockey Club, Rawalpindi. With this draw, India won the Pakistan leg of the six-match hockey series.

Earlier, in the series, India drew 1-1 at Lahore; beat Pakistan 2-1 at Faisalabad.

Pakistan, however, were the overall winners of the series winning 3-0, all their wins coming in India.

Playing without Rehan Butt and Shakeel Abbasi, it seemed India would take advantage of the hosts weakened forward line. But defence lapses from India ensured that Pakistan were 2-0 up at the break.

Whenever, India seemed to be getting their rhythm in the match, a defensive lapse would erode confidence.

Pakistan took the lead in the 3rd minute when a weak Dilawar shot from outside the circle wasn't trapped cleanly by Harpal Singh. The rebound

was picked up by Tariq Aziz who shot in without a delay.

India was pegged on the back foot as Pakistan skipper Mohammed Saqlain played his heart out. Distributing through balls and also making inroads past the Indian midfield, Saqlain ensured that Pakistan didn't miss
the injured Rehan and Shakeel.

In the 27th minute, yet another defensive error led to Pakistan's second goal. Mudassar Ali Khan took a wild swipe from outside the striking circle. Vinay tried to trap the ball but edged it towards the far post.

As the ball headed to strike the post, an unmarked Saqlain rushed in from the side and guided it into goal. Kanwalpreet Singh standing next to the Pakistan skipper was more intent on the ball than the man he was
supposed to mark.

India shifted Arjun Halappa and Ignace Tirkey combined well for a spell of domination that lasted for five minutes and gave India two penalty corners but both were wasted.

After the break, India did push with Prabodh Tirkey advancing to help the midfield. But yet another defensive lapse threatened to turn the match into a rout. In the 42nd minute, Saqlain sent a perfect scoop to Shabbir Khan.

Goalkeeper Bharat Chetri judged it wrongly and came rushing out of the goal post. Shabbir, however, trapped the scoop cleanly and seeing Chetri caught midway sent his shot between the keeper and the post. None of the Indian defenders seeing that Chetri had charged out came forward to cover the gaps.

Three minutes later, India had a great chance to cut the deficit but Rajpal saw his flick hit the upright.

The Indians were now charging through the middle as Pakistan somewhat relaxed at the back. India earned their third penalty corner in the 53rd minute and Sandeep Singh's flick, though low, went through Salman Akhbar's pads.

Four minutes later, Didar and Shivender Singh stitched together a move but the final pass couldn't be pushed in by Tejbir with Salman beaten.

But the aggressive tactics by the Indians had the Pakistan defence in all sorts of trouble.

India cut the deficit further when Tejbir making for the earlier lapse shot in from the right, the rising shot completely beating Salman Akhbar for India's second goal.

Tejbir again showed his wonderful skills in the 61st minute when he headed straight to the middle of the circle but at the last minute, cut the ball back to Vikram Pillay standing unmarked on the left. Vikram's powerful shot went through Salman's pads, the second time that the Pakistan goalkeeper had let the ball in through his pads. At 3-3, with the game equalized, India looked good enough for a winner.

But two minutes later, Sardara Singh, who had been warned earlier, was this time shown the yellow card for dangerous play and India were reduced to ten men with seven minutes remaining in the game.

Pakistan also replaced their goalkeeper Salman and brought in Nasir Ahmed.

Struggling to keep their midfield moving and ensuring that the defence was in full strength, India somehow, kept the score line at 3-3 to finish off the match.


Finally, India Grab A Win
India-Pakistan Hockey Series
5th match, Faisalabad

India 2 Pakistan 1

By Sundeep Misra

After losing three consecutive matches in India, drawing the fourth in Lahore, India pulled off a much needed win beating Pakistan 2-1 in the 5th Test at Faisalabad. India did win but alarm bells sure must be ringing for Rajinder Singh junior, Indian coach, in the manner, penalty corners have been failing for the national side. And the villain of the day was none other than, the much touted match-winner for India Sandeep Singh. India had nine penalty corners, once three consecutive, but each of them was a case in how never to take a penalty corner. The one that
Kanwalpreet Singh scored the match-winner actually came of a rebound and the Indian full back had ample time and space to shoot in.

At the same time, it must be said that India enjoyed territorial advantage, made most of the moves and had the midfield, for once, putting in a huge effort. Prabodh Tirkey had a wonderful game and this display must come as a slap on the selectors faces who dared keep him out of the 2005 Chennai Champions Trophy.

Pakistan, on the other hand, seemed relaxed but the Indian defence played much better than what they have done in the series, closing the gaps and most importantly backing each other up.

India had a penalty corner in the 6th minute but there was too much gap between the ball and the stick, the time allowing the Pakistan defence to keep out the flick. The Indian forwards, enjoying gaps in the
Pakistan midfield, created the moves but the finishing was again poor. Vikram Pillay and Arjun Halappa cruised with the ball, their sharp through balls throwing the Pakistan defence in a tizzy.

But, as has been the norm in the series, Pakistan took the lead in the 28th minute through a classic conversion by Imran Warsi. He twisted his torso to the right and as Chetri went for his left, threw the flick into the goalkeeper's right hand corner.

With two minutes left in the first half, Didar Singh had a wonderful chance but the Indian forward who impressed so much in the Premier Hockey League didn't do the elementary procedure that forwards do when facing the goalkeeper - look up and shoot. Didar's shot while looking at the ball, went wide off the target.

India had another great move when Ignace Tirkey passed to Shivender whose onward cross dissected the defence but Tejbir after beating the goalkeeper Nasir Ahmed couldn't control the shot.

In the 36th minute, a minute after resumption, India earned three penalty corners consecutively but Sandeep Singh, let the ball travel too much, ensuring that the Pakistan defence came on and cleared. The worrying factor was not that India were missing the penalty corners but that the mistakes were so elementary that it exposed the thought behind each of these penalty corner conversions.

In the 38th minute, India again earned a penalty corner but the indirect shot by Didar Singh was too weak.

Tushar Khandekar conspicuous by his absence came on and the Indian attack saw some bite emerging. Pakistan, in the meanwhile, had also wasted three penalty corners.

But the move or rather the goal of the series came in the 53rd minute.

Rajpal Singh went on a counter-attack passing to Vinay who held till Rajpal had entered the striking circle. The Chandigarh Dynamos striker entered the circle with tremendous pace and flicked the ball on the run between two defenders and the goalkeeper Nasir Ahmed for a classic goal and the equalizer.

India was pushing now and they earned two penalty corners in the 56th minute. After failing with the 7th, India took the lead with the 8th penalty corner conversion. Didar Singh trying an indirect weakly flicked towards goal and the ball came off a defenders stick. Kanwalpreet Singh standing right in the middle of the circle hammered it home to give the lead and the eventual match-winner for India.

India could have increased the lead in the 66th minute but their 9th penalty corner was again wasted though this time Nasir Ahmed came off the line to effect a good save, his stick deflecting the ball away.

Kanwalpreet Singh was declared the man-of-the-match. India now play their last Test on February 26th. 


We Can Win World Cup: Asif Bajwa

Pakistan hockey coach Asif Bajwa is confident his boys are moving in the right direction to win the 2006 World Cup this year.

Talking to reporters here in Lahore he said his team was in the process of winning a major tournament.

"We can win the World Cup and the players are working hard and training on scientific lines.

"A slight debacle can put the breaks. To counter it, more support is required from all quarters including the government, Pakistan Hockey Federation, critics and others. Win or loss is part of the game," he said while giving details of training programme for World Cup.

Bajwa's main focus will be on four aspects. First, he would be raising the present bunch of 20 to 24 players. They will all work as a cohesive unit.

Secondly, he would stress on developing defensive skills of forwards.

Thirdly, he would be concentrating on combining skills with tactics under long and short-term training programmes.

Fourthly, special emphasis will be on physical conditioning of players on scientific lines. For this PHF has hired experts in various fields.

"Time is of specialization," Pakistani coach who guided his team to victory in Robobank Trophy said.

Comparing Asians with Europeans, Bajwa, who took over from Roleant Oltman of Holland, said, "Europeans are more tactical and physically tough. Though Indian and Pakistan players are more skillful, Europeans are
more consistent," he opined.

Domestic hockey was totally different from international competitions,

Bajwa, who had played as center-forward for Pakistan from 1992 to 1996, added.

On the transformation of Pakistan team under Oltman, Bajwa, who worked under the Dutch for one year said "his biggest contribution to the team was that he followed a system. He made some sensible changes in Pakistan team."

(Courtesy, The News International) 


Tejbir Saves Day For India
India-Pakistan Hockey Series

Pakistan 1 India 1

By Sundeep Misra

Finishing off a move from sizzling crosses became the bane of Pakistan as they threw away a first half lead and some half a dozen chances to enable India slam in a late Tejbir Singh equalizer as the Indians walked off the hockey pitch at Lahore, finally, throwing away the cloak of defeat. The 1-1 shoreline also stopped a run of three consecutive defeats in the first three Tests in India.

The proceedings seemed absolutely normal when Muhammad Saqlain played to perfection his role as central midfielder. Shakeel Abassi, Rehan Butt ran rings around the Indian defence where only goalkeeper Bharat Chetri
rose above the average to bag the man-of-the-match award.

Shabbir was distinctly unlucky as his goal in the early stages of the match was disallowed by the Malaysian umpire, Paramjit Singh. But the lead was still Pakistan's for the fourth time in four Test matches. After the first penalty corner gave way to a second, Tariq Aziz slotted in the shot between Chetri and Harpal Singh. Ironically, it was the slow pace of the shot that fooled the defenders.

The Indian midfield was again not in the match. Arjun Halappa, after his masterful display at Chandigarh had the Pakistan defenders keeping him at bay. What was surprising was why Arjun wasn't given the role of playing central midfielder again? On the right flank, he was marked well by the Pakistan defenders. India could have equalized in the dying seconds of the first half but Shivender Singh went too far with his dribble on the line, allowing the Pakistan defenders to regroup themselves.

Mistakes continued in the zonal as well as man-to-man marking of Sandeep Singh. One only hopes that with more and more exposure he would realize his mistakes and rectify them.

India seriously needs to look at the structure they are playing as none of the players seemed comfortable in the positions that they had been asked to play. Sandeep Singh, as a few former players of repute have said, should be played as central midfielder where he can use his stock slap shot to good use in releasing the balls to the forwards. But one also needs to understand Rajinder junior here and give him time at least till the Commonwealth Games. As he himself said in Chandigarh, "This is the first time I am spending time with the boys and I am sure they will understand what I am trying to make of them."

Both Shakeel Abbasi and Rehan Butt had their chances to increase the lead in the second half but Chetri and Shakeel's own mistakes in trapping let the team down.

Just when it seemed that the game would head for a solitary goal win for Pakistan, India struck.

Tejbir picked up a cross in the 64th minute and went past Pakistan skipper Saqlain who surprisingly didn't attempt to check Tejbir. Saqlain was, probably, afraid of bringing in his stick and getting penalized with a penalty corner in the last few minutes. But Tejbir seized the opportunity and with a reverse shot beat Salman Akhbar in goal. It was an
angular shot that zipped in between the goalkeeper caught on the post with a yawning gap between him and the defender on the far post.

India could have walked away with the match when Rajpal's cross went across the goal post but Shivender Singh standing in front couldn't trap or deflect in the ball.

Pakistan coach Asif Bajwa said he was disappointed with the senior players in the team. "Rehan, Mudassar and Shakeel should have held the ball and taken their time to set up moves. In the next match, we should ensure that such moves are finished off with the goals." 

Third Consecutive Win For Pak
India-Pakistan Hockey Series

Pakistan 2 India 1

By Sundeep Misra

Pathetic defending combined with a non-existent midfield ensured that India lost its third consecutive Test match to Pakistan here in Jalandhar. The 2-1 score-line doesn't justify Pakistan's dominance but for those who were present at the Surjit Memorial Hockey Stadium, the Indian defeat did raise questions about the road ahead to the 2006 World Cup in September.

Defeats against Pakistan are difficult to digest but since the first Test in Chandigarh, what is worrying is that the Indian performance instead of going up has been steadily slipping.

Indian coach Rajinder Singh Junior, who nowadays shies away from the media, said, "It is depressing to lose three games in a row but we are hoping that the team would start combining together for the three matches in Pakistan."

Optimism is a feel-good factor but the big question after the Jalandhar Test is whether mistakes are being rectified or not. Pakistan's opening goal in the 17th minute by Tariq Aziz and the Mohammed Saqlain goal that made it 2-1 for Pakistan were horrifying errors by a defence that had its eye more on the ball than on the man.

Rajinder explains it simply as "mistakes that need to be rectified." Everyone expected that the Indians would make a match of it. But the defensive stance of the Indians ended up giving more room to Pakistan. The defenders refused to come out of the striking circle while the forwards refused to create space in the Pakistan circle. Without a single Indian forward up close to the Pakistan defenders, there was no pressure on the visitors and Nasir Ahmed had a relatively quiet time under the bar.

The Indians didn't even earn a single penalty corner which actually goes to show that there is no planning as far as circle penetration goes. On the other hand, Shakeel Abbasi made three penalty corners for Pakistan and if they only had someone of the calibre of Sohail Abbas, the Indians would have been murdered.

The Pakistan coaching staff is surprised by this rather tame Indian side. If Pakistan coach Asif Bajwa talks of "you cannot dismiss India" his deputy is more vocal. Assistant coach Rana Mujahid says, "I don't understand the Indian team. They just don't know what to do. They appear clueless."

India's goal in the 29th minute came off a Rajpal Singh move on the right flank where the cross ended up on Tejbir's stick as the Jalandhar boy celebrated his goal-bound deflection. For the first time, in the match, a cross saw two Indian forwards, Tejbir and Tushar, in the circle.

Aimless dribbling from Sardar Singh, Vinay and the captain Ignace, not only slowed the pace of the game for India but gave counter-attacks away to Pakistan. One of them actually led to the third penalty corner for Pakistan.

The second goal came as a surprise for the Pakistan skipper Muhammad Saqlain. With only a minute to go for the break in the second half, Shakeel's cross went off Prabodh Tirkey's stick and Saqlain standing next to goalkeeper Chetri managed to deflect it in.

Pakistan now leads the six-match series 3-0 having won the Indian leg. Both the teams now go to Pakistan on Tuesday to start their Pakistan leg of three Test matches. 


Pakistan Win Again, India Disappoint
India-Pak Hockey Series 2006

Pakistan 3 India 1

By Sundeep Misra

If converting free hits were termed to be art, Pakistan was the master practitioner of it. Twice they used it to devastating effect in what was an emphatic 3-1 victory in the second Test here at Chandigarh.

Pakistan now leads the series 2-0 and it would take quite a super-human effort from the Indians to even cut the deficit. If there was a silver lining to the defeat, it was the display of Arjun Halappa, who probably since the time he graduated from the junior ranks played the best match of his career. The tiny dynamo was all over the field, defending, attacking and distributing. If his crosses had only been trapped cleanly by a bungling forward line, the Indians wouldn't have so hurriedly gone off the pitch, seconds after the game was over.

India had lost the first Test 1-2 but in that display had shown promise but, today, before a packed house they didn't build on it. The first half was quite a scrappy affair as both the teams took considerable time to settle down.

Pakistan coach Asif Bajwa was happy to take a 2-0 lead and promised that there would be no let-up in the pursuit for a clean sweep. "It's good that the defence is taking the pressure," he said. "This is the team that will go all the way to the World Cup, so every win is important."

India did most of the attacks from the left with the right wing out of the match. It was only when Shivender Singh was introduced that some action was seen with India earning a penalty corner but Kanwalpreet Singh messed up the rebound after seeing his first hit come off the pads of Salman Akhbar.

But the lead again went to Pakistan, early in the second half. A free hit from just outside the circle sizzled through the jungle of legs and Rehan Butt somehow found the space to deflect in the shot.

It was enough to spur on the Indians as they swarmed into the attack led by the brilliant Arjun Halappa. The equalizer came in the 45th minute off India's third penalty corner when Sandeep Singh, fortunately to be on the pitch when it was awarded, shot in low past Salman, the Pakistan goalkeeper.

With the scores at 1-1, the crowds came alive as India zipped around the Pakistan striking circle but were unable to deliver the killer blow. In the 60th minute, another free hit outside the circle and this time it was Tariq Aziz, whose deflection found the mark.

Ignace Tirkey's absence was being felt as an injury kept him of the field for a majority of the match. India could have equalized with five minutes to go but a Tushar move saw Shivender fumbling in the circle with a clear look at the goal.

As the Indians started moving up, a cross from the deep found Shakeel Abbasi and the Pakistan striker taking advantage of the space dribbled in and then flicked to Rehan Butt who closed out the match with his second goal as Pakistan went 3-1 up.

India seriously needs to take a look at themselves, especially upfront. Finishing is a malaise and the quicker they find answers to it, the better it would be for Indian hockey and Rajinder Singh junior.

India now plays the third Test at Jalandhar on Monday. 


India Dominates, Pakistan Wins
India-Pak Hockey Series 2006

Pakistan 2 India 1

By Sundeep Misra

To say that this was another story of missed chances for India would be to state the obvious. Pakistan did win 2-1 to take a 1-0 lead in the six-match hockey series but India showed opportunism, definite class and a set of skills that hasn't been seen in a long time. Having said that, errors still dominated the midfield, the defence was prone to be caught off guard and the forwards desperately need target practice but the overall dominant display showed that India is on the right path.

Indian coach Rajinder Singh junior, understandably disappointed, said, "We had their measure and the boys played well. After their first goal, we dominated and created chances and should have put three goals in.  But those areas are the ones that I will be working on."

Even assistant coach, Clarence Lobo had a smile and a word for the juniors in the team. "We dominated," he explained. "But I am happy that the junior boys performed under pressure. I think we have a good team in the making."

After ten minutes of cautious play, Pakistan created the opening when a beautiful piece of opportunism saw Tariq Aziz slamming in a goal from the top of the circle. Indian goalkeeper Chetri was clearly unsighted amongst a sea of his own defenders legs.

The goal jolted the Indians into hurrying things in the midfield. Ignace, sometimes, playing central swapped well with Arjun Halappa and VS Vinay. Chances were created for almost 15 minutes but Didar Singh, Tushar Khandekar and Rajpal Singh repeatedly fumbled in the Pakistan striking circle. Once, Didar played on the line but his reverse pass into the middle of the circle hit his own teammate's leg. Rajpal had a foray down the right and perfect cross went tantalizingly past the outstretched sticks of Tushar and Didar.

The first penalty corner for India was off a magical move between Arjun, Vinay and Tejbir. Didar's flick was right on target but the tall Salman Akhbar managed to tip it over.

A second penalty corner was wasted when Kanwalpreet managed to create space but put too much muscle into the shot as it went off target. At this point, even though, India dominated, they missed a central midfielder in the mould of the former Indian captain Jude Felix. Someone who could create deep fissures into the Pakistan half.

Rajinder did give a chance to Adam Sinclair but the Chennai player once again managed to convince everyone that he really isn't made for top class hockey. In ten minutes on the pitch, he probably managed to touch the ball once!
With Didar tiring upfront, India was giving away the advantage and it would remain surprising that with players like Hari Prasad and Shivender Singh on the bench, why were we not substituting fast.

Pakistan seemed to have the match wrapped up in the 57th minute when Chetri saved the fifth penalty corner but the ball fell to Shakeel Abassi who slammed the ball in for a 2-0 lead. Arjun Halappa, who had an average match, made up for all the errors, when he snaked in a superb through ball to Tushar Khandekar. The Indian winger turned in the same movement of trapping the ball and sent a first timer that sped in through Salman Akhbar's legs.

With almost nine minutes remaining, there was a genuine chance of grabbing an equalizer. But the third penalty corner was wasted when a variation between Didar and Kanwalpreet didn't work.

In the end Rajinder had a message: "Give this team a little time and we will do well in the coming tournaments." 


Edge Is With India: Rajinder junior
By Sundeep Misra

If enthusiasm and motivation were the missing links in the Indian hockey team, they would do well to borrow it from the Indian cricket team that brilliantly wrapped up the one-day series in Multan on Thursday.

Rajinder Singh junior, the Indian hockey coach, would also be praying that India kicks off its six test series against Pakistan with a win and also hope it sets off a trend that would continue through the year leading up to the World Cup in September.

The Indian coach is a bit shy these days and one can point towards pressure to perform. Since the time he has taken charge, Indian hockey has slid a few notches with the Champions Trophy in Chennai seeing us go out of the elite group of six.

"I know that the boys can do it," he said, after the team had finished their training at the sector-42 stadium, venue of the first two Tests against Pakistan. "But like I have always said that a coach requires time to study the talent in the country and then form a core group."

Nothing wrong with those words except that almost 10-15 players have come and gone since Junior took charge and starting off the Test series without battle hardened veterans like Viren Rasquinha, Deepak Thakur and
Gagan Ajit Singh seems like going hunting in a wild-life infested forest with a hunting knife.

Of course, there will be a difference of opinion. Tushar Khandekar has moved up the ranks from a junior into a consistent winger while Sardar Singh definitely showed his potential in the Premier Hockey League. But for Rajinder, the worry lies in the midfield which has actually been India's bane for quite some time. "I think players like Ignace Tirkey, Vikram Pillay, Prabodh Tirkey and Vinay need to go up a level. If we can secure that area, I think the work load of the forwards and the defenders would come down."

Easier said than done as Ignace Tirkey after his brilliant run in the 2003 Asia Cup has, somehow, never got close to that form. The onus would be on Prabodh to provide the vital link to Tushar and Didar on the left flank.

The frontline has punch with talent like Rajpal, Sardar, Shivender Singh, Arjun and Tejbir. The question mark, however, rests on the chances converted. "That's an area we have been working quite a lot," says the Indian coach. "And I think everyone will see the results."

His counterpart, Asif Bajwa, still retains that aloofness that almostbecame a fashion statement after Pakistan under his coaching clinched the Rabo Cup (mini World Cup in 2005 August). But the strain of maintaining that winning record told on him during the Champions Trophy where they scraped through to finish fifth. Bajwa has the mandate from the PHF till the September World Cup but in the hot bed of Indian and Pakistan hockey politics, things change at the drop of a hat. "I have never let that bother me," he says. "I am confident about my team and I know it"
will mature by the time it reaches the World Cup. Of course, winning the matches here is also important."

Confidence also stems from the fact that skipper Muhammad Saqlain is a champion play-maker and his distribution can have forwards like Rehan Butt, Shekeel Abbasi, Shabbir Hussain, Mudassar Ali Khan and Adnan Zakir tear apart any defence in the world. With Salman Akbar in goal, Sandeep Singh, Didar Singh and Raghunath would be seriously tested when it comes to penalty corners.

Rajinder maintains that India has the edge. But for that the Indian forwards would need to earn penalty corners and, most importantly, convert them. 


IHF Says Dilip Injured, Ignace Captain

Indian Hockey Federation in a press release said that Dilip Tirkey will not report for the first leg of the India-Pak series as he is injured.

Since he is unable to come to Chandigarh, Ignace Tirkey will be the captain for the series.


India-Pak Match Timings

As per the convenience of Doordarshan, the match timings of India-Pakistan Test Series 2006 at Chandigarh and Jalandhar have been revised as under:

17th Feb 06 - Chandigarh - 1830 hrs.

18th Feb 06 - Chandigarh - 1830 hrs.

20th Feb 06 - Jalandhar - 1500 hrs.

The matches would be telecast live by both DD Punjabi and ESPN-Star Sports.





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