By Pargat Singh
The bottom-place finish in the Olympic Games will leave lingering pain for Indian hockey after the national team crashed to its sixth successive defeat and showed a lot more is required of the Indian side to be competitive at this level.
The big question coming to the fore is about the India team`s preparedness for the Olympics. Whether fitness or mental conditioning, the Indian team showed a distinct lack of preparedness for the Olympic Games.
Was the Indian team really ready for this campaign is a question that demands answers. One must not overlook the fact that several athletes and team across the world prepare for four years to come and perform at the Olympic Games.
To me it seems the overall lack of experience of the Indian team in such competitive situations against top grade opponents was clearly visible.
But it was the mental fragility that came to the fore when playing some of the countries whom India had competed on level terms until recently.
Were we really as ready as we were told ahead of India`s return to the Olympics, after missing out on the 2008 Beijing Games.
If we do not take into consideration that India failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics and finished outside the 12-team competition, then this is India`s lowest finish at the Olympic Games.
It has been a four-spot drop from our previous low of the No. 8 finish at Atlanta in 1996.
Also, this 12th-place finish happening in London brings back painful memories of the 1986 World Cup in the British capital.
All Indian hockey followers were hoping India will at least win the last match to avert a repeat of that debacle. Not that the 11th position would have reduced the magnitude of a campaign gone wrong, but a bottom spot could leave a bigger scar on the minds of the young players.
In the match against South Africa, the Indian strikers once again failed to redeem their prestige with continuous squandering of chances, while at the other end the defence yet again left gaps for the rivals to mount attacks without having to bother about space creation.
The strikers did often manage to create passage into the striking circle. But once they were in the scoring zone there seemed to be a lack of ideas, and even earning penalty corners did not seem to be on their mind.
But then the penalty corners also do not always tip the scales in your favour.
Sandeep Singh did score with a low flick on India`s first penalty corner, but the other two corner shots in the second session failed to make an impression on the South African goalkeeper who found a lot of shots in open play coming straight into his pads.
Look at the South African goals. Two of them in the first half had the stamp of opportunism and quick thinking.
Andrew Cronje`s opening goal came from a deft flick into the goal during a goalmouth melee, but it was the second goal from Timothy Drummond just before halftime that was the game-changer.
The way Drummond tipped the ball over the diving Indian goalkeeper was courtesy his good reflexes just as the Indian custodian was diving forward to deny him a wider angle.
That quick reflex action was what left India stranded at the bottom of the table.