It is no longer a secret. In fact, it is something that the rivals bank on – India's vulnerability in the closing stages of a match. And, it has now become a habit for both the coach and the fans to hold their breath as the Indian hockey team tries to negotiate the final minutes of a match that it may even be leading.
The last two games have once again established the Indian hockey team as 'chokers'. They conceded the winning goal to Belgium with 12 seconds left on the clock and did so again against England with 75 seconds remaining.
Head coach Terry Walsh spoke of 'crucial' stages in the match and he could not have been referring to anything but the last few minutes when the Indians seem most vulnerable. They seem to take their mind off the game and are virtually waiting for the hooter to go off. The ability to trap, the ability to keep possession and play for the last few seconds becomes a Herculean task for them.
Walsh said on Monday, "We have lost the games in the crucial stages (read closing minutes) and I believe it is not something new. It has happened in the past but we need to get past that."
It has now become a problem of gigantic proportions. When asked if the fact that they have been losing in 'that stage' is playing on their minds, Walsh admitted, "Probably."
But it is something that he has been working on. Before the team left for The Netherlands, he had talked about working on the psychological side of the players. He was quite clearly referring to 'this' aspect.
Motivating a team after losing such games like the ones against Belgium and England is a tough ask for Walsh or for that matter skipper Sardar Singh. But that is something they cannot give up on.
After training on Tuesday morning, Walsh put up a brave face and said, "The boys have delivered a great game of hockey yesterday though the end result was disappointing. We are working on our strategy by analysing the mistakes made in the last two games and will try to change our game accordingly. These changes will also apply to rotation of players and goal scoring strategies. The team is working on its tactics in the training sessions for the next match and we are determined to give a great performance for the upcoming matches against Spain, Australia and Malaysia."
To that Sardar added, "The team has put up a very competitive challenge against both the higher-ranked teams, Belgium and England. It was only towards the end of both the games that we fumbled and gave away the match. Yes, it is extremely disappointing to have lost such matches where the team had put in so much of efforts. We are working on our mistakes in team meetings and practice sessions."