From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.33 :: NO.43 :: Oct. 28, 2010

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COMMONWEALTH GAMES / HOCKEY

Awesome Aussies!

Though the Australian women struggled, the majestic march of the men's squad deserves to be written in gold. Guided magnificently by the one and only tactician in contemporary hockey, Ric Charlesworth, the Aussies were unbeatable. By S. Thyagarajan.

Any recap of the hockey competition in the 2010 Commonwealth Games must begin with praise for the awesome Aussies. The defending champions' gold medal triumphs —in both the men's and women's competitions — reaffirms the power alignments not only in the CWG, but the world rankings too.

While it will be churlish to deny the fact that the Australian women struggled, the majestic march of the men's squad deserves to be written in gold. Guided magnificently by the one and only tactician in contemporary hockey, Ric Charlesworth, the Aussies were unbeatable. Their six successive wins culminated in the demolition of India in the final.

Maybe the other coaches around the world are not as lucky as Ric, for they are handicapped by the absence of the kind of talent that constitutes the Australian team.

In a combination where everyone is world class there is little scope to pick and choose. The game is yet to discover another player of the calibre of Jaime Dwyer, the fulcrum of the Australian team. Then the team has an array of superbly endowed players such as Glenn Turner, Rob Hammond, Luke Doerner, Liem de Young and the goalkeeper, Nathan Burgers.

What makes Australia a separate entity? It has succeeded in amalgamating the best virtues of the sport. Impressive, incisive and imaginative, the Aussies have been incredible, be it in carving a move or defending a raid from the opponent. Everything in the Australian team is so well orchestrated that you have to peer closely to pick a flaw.

India's silver medal is a silver lining. It showed that the game is alive and kicking but crying for a professional administration. The chinks, especially in the backline, showed up now and then despite the team's victories against Pakistan and England (in the tie-breaker in the semifinal). Even in the opening match, against Malaysia, the lapses were glaring.

Backed by a huge spectator support — it was a revelation that the game has acquired such popularity in the capital — the Indian performance was a mixed bag.

Goals by Sandeep off penalty corners and Shivendra Singh's exquisite touches did inspire confidence, what with the midfield, consisting of Halappa who was flanked by Gurbaj and Prabodh, pushing hard. In the backline, Sardar Singh contributed immensely but the same cannot be said of Mahadik.

Goalkeeper Chettri, who brought off that great save from Kirkham in the penalty shoot out against England, was in focus in the semifinal.

Without much of a flourish New Zealand managed to down England for the bronze medal. Goalkeeper Pontifex was Kiwis' trump card. The output of skipper Phil Burrows, Simon Child and Hayden Shaw was also considerable.

Many were surprised by the fact that England finished without a medal. It was the favourite to take on Australia in the final but lost the plot against India, which recovered from a 1-3 deficit to outclass the Englishmen.

England depended a lot on Ashley Jackson, while the Mantell brothers, Simon and Richard, were also expected to play crucial roles. Each of them came up with good performances at different point of time in the tournament, but what England really needed was for the three players to click together which would have a produced the desired result.

Of the rest, South Africa and Canada fought for all that they were worth. In fact Canada was unlucky to miss the semifinal berth, as in the crucial match against New Zealand it held on to the lead till the final minutes before giving in. It was a crucifying moment for Ken Pereira's gallant men.

Justin Lloyd and Gareth Carr were outstanding for the South Africans, who pushed Pakistan to the sixth place.

Despite having a new Dutch coach, the Pakistanis are yet to get over their mental block after their dismal showing in the last World Cup. The Pakistani youngsters were psyched by the crowd during their 4-7 defeat to India. Should Pakistan continue to rest its hopes on the likes of Rehan Butt and Shakeel Abbasi?

The success of the Australian women is a tribute to the depth of talent in the team. The Aussies, nearly a bunch of under-23 players, performed valiantly thanks to the competence of Jessica Nicole and Ashleigh Nelson.

In the early part of the tournament, New Zealand looked formidable. The burly Kate Glynn was among the goals, while skipper Kayla Sharland and Stacey Michelson were notable in the team.

Notwithstanding the good work by Charlottee Craddock and Crista Cullen, England fell victim to the heat. The bronze was no consolation for the team.

The over-reliance on veteran Pietee Coetzee, who returned to hockey after a five-year hiatus, proved to be the undoing of the South Africans, who looked good enough for a medal.

India's failure to finish on the podium this time, after having won the gold in Manchester (2002) and silver in Melbourne (2006), was disheartening. The draw with Scotland in the opening match proved so costly for the team that it was denied a berth in the semifinals despite its win against South Africa. Surinder Kaur and Ritu Rani scored a few goals but Rani Ramphal's failure was a bit surprising.

However, it was appalling to know that the coach and the manger were unaware of the methods of calculating the goal-difference which became essential to advance to the semifinals.





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