For the first time since 1998, the Indian hockey teams will return home without a medal from the Commonwealth Games. While the women exceeded most expectations barring a meltdown in the final quarter of their bronze medal match against England, the men will have to reflect on what has been a disappointing outing in Gold Coast.
The knockout blues continue
One of the biggest criticisms of the Indian team in recent years has been that they fail to turn up in the business end of competitions, and that trend continued in Gold Coast. In Rio, India beat eventual champions Argentina in the league stages, but lost to Belgium in the quarter-finals. In the World League last year, they lost to Malaysia and Canada once the knockout stages began in the semi-finals.
In Gold Coast, India faced New Zealand and seemed to be caught unawares by the organisation and pace of their opponents, trailing 2-0 early and then falling 3-2.India had scrapped hard against England in the pool stages, coming back to score two goals inside the last two minutes, but in the bronze medal match, they lost 2-1.
India seem to suffer from a mental block when the going gets tough, and could be better served by regular inputs from a sports psychologist, who could help them approach pool matches and those in the knockout the same way.
The midfield conundrum
India's squad for Gold Coast was a bit lopsided in the quality and quantity in midfield. There was always likely to be an over dependence on captain Manpreet Singh -- with the untested Sumit, Vivek Sagar Prasad and Chinglensana Singh supporting him -- and that proved to be the case.
While Manpreet played his heart out, especially in the hard-fought wins over Wales and Malaysia, the mental and physical tiredness of playing six games inside eight games eventually took its toll. Vivek is one for the future, and showed glimpses of his ability during the Games, but India will need to rethink how they approach creating a more versatile midifield in the wake of their Gold Coast debacle. There's ample talent around the rest of the pitch, but they are unlikely to compete regularly with the best sides in the world if they do not have at least three quality players to choose from, those that can balance both attack and defence with the same efficiency.
A question of conversion
India had their share of chances in all the matches they played in Gold Coast, but just didn't cash in enough. Leading 2-1 against Pakistan in the opening game, they had a chance to close the game out but Mandeep Singh went for a narrow-angle shot rather than lay it up for SV Sunil.
In the match that mattered, against New Zealand, India created nine penalty corners, but only converted one. Both their inability to convert PCs and their porous defence -- despite having the services of PR Sreejesh in goal for the first time in a major event in about a year -- were a cause of concern for coach Sjoerd Marijne.
"In the five months [since I took over], we didn't create so many chances as we did now. I am happy about that. We have to keep working on scoring," he said after the New Zealand defeat on Friday. "This is the first time I saw them making more defensive errors. We work really hard on defence. The team is also disappointed that for all the effort we put, we didn't get the result."
Marijne would be the first to admit that while failure could be a relative term, result is an absolute. India have under-performed, and there is no escaping that.