From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.33 :: NO.22 :: Jun. 03, 2010
India's Rajpal Singh (left) and South Korea's Kim Yong-bae hold the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. India and South Korea shared the trophy.
What an anti-climax! Pluvius played a cruel game forcing India and Korea be declared as joint champions in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament at Ipoh. Never in the 18 earlier editions has there been such a result. Denied of any option, an unprecedented decision was made on May 16. Happily, however, both the teams accepted the verdict without a murmur.
A remarkable feature of the edition 2010 was the sustained interest in spotting the cup contestants. Till the preceding day of the final no less than four of the seven teams had a chance to fight for the trophy. Eventually, Korea made it by a difference of one goal pushing Malaysia, Australia and Pakistan down, while India, with a comfortable 7-1 victory over Egypt, picked up the top slot in the table.
Coming as the event did after the World Cup in Delhi, interest was on the composition of the squads, being readied for the important competitions ahead. For the four Asian teams, it was not merely the Asiad in Guanzhou, but the Commonwealth Games in Delhi as well.
For Australia, which fielded a strong but young squad, the competition was test for the material to be used in the Champions Trophy and the CWG. Interestingly, Australia holds both the titles.
Gurbaj Singh excelled in the championship.
From India's standpoint, it was a fairly memorable venture. A hat-trick of cup finals coupled with the successful defence of the 2009 trophy, and this is a commendable result. In spite of some imbalance between deep defence and attack, India performed well to take the top spot with 13 points.
After an embarrassing start, drawing 1-1 with China, India's sequence of wins against Pakistan, Australia and Korea, was heart-warming. One bad match against Malaysia — the home team, admittedly, was brilliant in that match — did not impair the chances of a finalist spot. A win over Egypt became mandatory, and the team accomplished with utmost ease.
One criticism the team faced repeatedly was the failure in penalty corners. In the absence of a drag flicker, the endeavour to convert set-pieces ended in a fiasco. Those involved in the exercise showed no clue or comprehension of the complexities and perfection demanded to court success in set pieces. Only in the last game was Mahadik allowed to take direct shots. He performed a hat-trick.
For all the splendid goals scored by Shivendra Singh and Tushar Khandekar, there was a noticeable streak of inconsistency. If the frontline managed field goals, it was largely on account of the excellent work in the mid-field by Arjun Halappa, supported by Gurbaj Singh and Bharat Chikkara on the right, Prabodh Tirkey and Vikas Pillay on the left. The lithe Mandeep Antil and the quick moving Danish Mujtaba integrated well.
Notwithstanding the heavy load on Mahadik, the deep defenders floundered repeatedly leaving the goal-keeper often unguarded as happened against Malaysia. Goal-keeper Bharat Chettri paid a heavy price for this. How Sardar Singh got the best vote for the player of the tournament beats a percipient observer. Arjun Halappa or Gurbaj would have been a more acceptable choice.
Korea did not display the flair it was known for. It made to the final spot by a whisker. The credit for pulling the team up there belonged to Nam Hyun Woo, the top scorer with nine goals from penalty corners. Australia had only three World Cup players — Grant Schubert, Russell Ford and Kieran Govers — but the effective penalty corner conversions by Christopher Cirello and the consistency of Matthew Swann in the mid-field did the team a world of good.
Malaysia's brilliance rested on Amin's penalty corners and Hanafi's delectable shooting from the top of the circle. But no one contributed more than goalkeeper Kumar Subramaniam, fittingly declared the best in the tournament.
After an indifferent start and heavy defeat against India, former champion, Pakistan improved game after game and came close within striking distance.
The fracas against the Irish umpire McCully in the match against Korea left a bitter taste. But the youth content, notably Tauseeq Ahmed, was impressive. China might have finished sixth, losing to Pakistan in a long drawn tie breaker phase, but the Chinese players showed good comprehension of the complexities of modern hockey.
That the event was organised by Perak Hockey Association with éclat goes without saying. Since the launch in 1983, the organising unit has perfected the system under the guidance and supervision of the Sultan of Perak, Azlan Shah. A full fledged cup final in perfect ambience would have been a reward for the organisational efficiency. Alas, the rain God robbed that pleasure for everyone.
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