Whitewashed Down Under - India's 'eye-opening' Hockey tour to Australia

Here is a breakdown of the Indian men's hockey team's 0-5 whitewash at the hands of hosts Australia in the Test series in Perth.

Update: 2024-04-14 12:22 GMT

Indian men's hockey team

"Thanks to the Australian team. They were a bit harsh on us, but we are going to meet in Paris."

This statement by Indian goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, in his post-match interview, summed up the tour of the Indian men's hockey team to Australia where they suffered a 0-5 whitewash in a five-match Test series, conceding 17 goals and scoring just seven. 

The scoreline of the matches resembled a weird arithmetic progression, but the state of the Men in Blue was no less quirk.

The first match looked like a demolition job as the Indian team was still finding their feet in Perth. From the second game, they improved brick by brick, but Australia were always one step ahead of Craig Fulton's Indian team. 

Australia have been a bogey team for India since the Tokyo Olympic bronze medallists could beat any team in the world but not Australia.

In the 48 matches played since 2013, Australia have won 33 against India. In seven matches in 2024, Australia have won six.

One can argue that Fulton took a big team and didn't play with a stable squad but that argument would be as abhorrent as believing that the Indian contingent would finish in the top five in the medal tally at the 2024 Paris Olympics

As Australia wreaked havoc on India, let us dive deep into it and see the problems coach Craig Fulton has ahead of the upcoming FIH Pro League.

Inept attacking

The first and biggest difference between the two teams is the attacking prowess. India's inability to score field goals is now a well-documented fact that the world knows well. To make it worse, India failed to improve their penalty corner conversion rate. India were so poor in execution that even their star drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh could not create the requisite space to sound the board.

India conceded a total of 17 goals in five games and managed to score seven in return.

The above chart lays out the difference between the attacking of both teams. Of Australia's total goals, eight were scored from open play, eight from penalty corners, and one from penalty stroke.

In contrast, India scored seven, including only two field goals and five penalty corners.

As it is evident, Australia had a balanced distribution of eight goals from both PCs and field goals while India were heavily dependent on penalty corners for goals.

Hence, the question arises what were Indian forwards doing if not scoring goals? Were they winning penalty corners? 

The answer is a big no.

Even when it comes to winning PCs, India managed to earn just 18 penalty corners compared to 31 by Australia.

Addressing the issue before the fourth Test, Fulton had said, "Our main focus is on the final three. There is a big emphasis on improving our counterattacks, keeping the ball longer in the opposition half, and doing something with it."

Why Indian forwards struggled

Fulton's philosophy of 'defend to win' comes on the back of structural hockey where the team needs to keep the defensive structure intact while attacking.

In India's case, the team have been struggling to adhere to Fulton's philosophy since their transition from counterattacks to defence, or vice versa has never been smooth. 

The likes of Akashdeep Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, and Mandeep Singh were either slow with their on-the-ball movement or lagging in taking quick decisions and playing passes, costing India crucial time in the attacking third. 

Hockey India Forward of the Year 2023 and one of the mainstays of India's scoring mettle besides Harmanpreet, Abhishek struggled with his form in Australia, and that took the sharpness off the team's attacking prowess. 

Youngster Boby Dhami Singh impressed on his debut, displaying his supreme positional awareness and scoring one of the two field goals. Gurjant Singh scored the other field goal that came following a swift counter-attack when Mohammed Raheel played the perfect pass at the right time.

Defence looked solid barring individual errors

Indian defence gave a good account of themselves in the series, barring the first Test. Australia was relentless while attacking and Indian defenders defended well.

India also kept the penalty corner prowess of Australia at bay and only allowed them to convert eight PCs out of the 31 they won.

The deep defending of the Indian team was brilliant in all four matches but the goals conceded were nothing sort of a massive self-destruction.

The lapse of concentration like Amit Rohidas gifting a penalty stroke and Jarmanpreet giving away balls in the circle were the moments that changed the course of the game.

India took the lead in the last three matches but Australia came back rapidly into the game forcing the Indian defence to commit errors or the defence self-imploded.

Fulton and the coaching staff need to work with the defenders on their decision-making to find a way out when they are attacked from all corners. 

Several times on the tour, Indian defenders put themselves in a situation where they had no outlet to release the ball resulting in loss of possession or Australia winning the ball back. 

Sreejesh stood tall among goalkeepers

All hockey coaches go through selection dilemmas while selecting goalkeepers for the Olympics due to squad restrictions. Only one goalkeeper can travel with the 16-member squad for the Olympics.

Fulton had the headache before going to Australia with both Krishan Bahadur Pathak and veteran PR Sreejesh producing brilliant results in every match.

But after this series, where Sreejesh proved his mettle against a relentless Australian attack, Fulton will have no confusion about who will be his first-choice goalkeeper for the Paris Olympics. Sreejesh's reflexes still look top notch and his decision-making is second to none.

Krishan Pathak and third-choice keeper Suraj Karkera also gave a good account of themselves but the veteran Sreejesh stood out.

Coach Fulton has a few headaches

Since joining the Indian team as a head coach last year, Fulton has worked extensively on improving the defence of the team and produced results with his method.

His midfield is also one of the best in the world with Manpreet Singh, Hardik Singh, and Vivek Sagar Prasad forming the core.

The areas Fulton will eye to improve are the attacking prowess, the mindset of attackers, and his tactics when one plan doesn't go the way.

For example, when the Australian team foiled India's plan to play long aerial balls in the first two matches the team looked out of ideas.

With FIH Pro League and Paris Olympics inching closer, Fulton must have figured out his core team by now and we can expect to see them in action next month at the Pro League.


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