Indian defense copes with Australia, but attack lets Fulton down again

1-5, 2-4 and 1-2.

The series was lost, but as the final scores of the three matches against Australia indicate, the Indian men’s hockey team showed gradual improvement over the course of three matches. From Australia running wild in the opening match to the home team securing a hard-fought victory in the third match, there is certainly progress.

But the progress is mostly tied to the Indians’ defense, which isn’t a surprise considering the type of hockey Craig Fulton prefers. However, despite all their progress, India have lost all their matches so far and this is mainly due to a failure in their attacking game.

Indian attack disappears again

Before Wednesday’s game, it was clear that the Indian defense would be under extreme pressure – because that’s the only way Australia plays its hockey.

In the first two quarters, India focused entirely on suppressing their opponents’ offensive moves. Defenders Amit Rohidas and Jugraj Singh were perfect with their tackles and interceptions. Hardik Singh also covered his defenders with well-timed blocks and PR Sreejesh was at his best, saving as many as four penalty corners in the first quarter. In fact, both goalkeepers barely made any mistakes, with Krishan Pathak also making some brilliant saves.

The team’s defensive work rate helped India stay in the match and they eventually took the lead, for only the second time in the series, thanks to a powerful drag shot from Jugraj in the 41st minute . However, a few minutes later, Rohidas, who had had a brilliant match up to that point, made a terrible mistake in defense. He miscontrolled a pass without pressure and then ended up committing a foul inside the box. A penalty stroke was awarded and Jeremy Hayward made no mistake in converting this opportunity. Eventually, Australia took the lead after Hayward converted a penalty corner opportunity in the fourth quarter. Moments before the goal, Sreejesh stood tall to deny a few slide-flick opportunities, but this time the ball was too high and he couldn’t raise his body in time to block the shot.

Mistakes are very much a part of the game. Despite the mistake, Rohidas was one of the best Indian players on the field. Even with his exceptional form, Sreejesh was beaten – once again a part of the game. The problem on Wednesday and in the previous match was that the Indian attack never really got going.

It’s strange that the Indian attack is on point because this team doesn’t really struggle to score. They have quality strikers who are quick in transition and create plenty of chances – both in terms of penalty corners and open play situations. During this tour, Indian attackers have had a lot of difficulties. It’s clear that Fulton wants his team to stick to the fast-break game plan. Therefore, Australia is the best opponent for this game plan given that their ultra-aggressive style leaves plenty of space on turnovers. Every time India had a good counter-attacking situation, the players were either a little slow to move the ball (which helped Australia pull back) or were guilty of making stupid mistakes .

It was no different in the third game. Whenever India had the opportunity to make a quick turnover, they were unusually slow and frequently lost the ball in the middle of the field. It was only in the fourth quarter that India showed some urgency in the attacking third, which gave Dilpreet Singh and Lalit Kumar Upadhyay a few chances. Abhishek had his moments but not consistently enough and Vivek Sagar Prasad was, once again, not at his best in midfield. Only Mohammed Raheel showed some creativity with the ball, but he needs to improve his finishing ball.

To their credit though, India found goals through their trailing – Jugraj and Harmanpreet scoring in the last two matches. But they can only be effective when the team creates opportunities for them. On Wednesday, Australia won nine penalty corners to India’s two, out of which Jugraj scored one.

There are still two matches left in the series. In a broader context, these particular results do not matter since the circuit is used for Olympic preparation. Still, Fulton needs more from its offensive unit in the next two games.

Remaining matches:

  • April 12 (3:00 p.m. IST)

  • April 13 (2:00 p.m. IST)

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