By Jugjet Singh
AFTER two decades of watching and writing about hockey, it can be safely concluded that the Malaysian team is still struggling to connect the third dot, and still do not have a clue on how to hold on, and work a lead into a win.
The Sultan of Johor Cup is like watching a replay of Arul Selvaraj and his team-mates play in the 1998 Utrecth World Cup. The same mistakes the current coach and his team-mates made decades ago, are being replayed by his charges in Johor Baru.
Arul admitted that the third pass was lacking in his charges, as after two brilliant moves, connecting the third dot is still elusive and that is why the goals are hard to come by. Then there is the sore point of discipline, like pushing the ball away after the whistle is blown and earning a card for this stupidity, and pushing the ball out deliberately at the back line and giving away a penalty corner.
Also after taking a lead, the present batch of defenders seem to enter sleep mode, and this was exactly the same problem with previous junior and senior sides. In Utrecth, we had many promising players, but still, they went on to finish 11th out of 12 teams. And their only achievement was a 1-1 draw in Group B against Poland, and then a 5-4 win over Poland in the 11th-12th placing match.
England, Spain, Australia and Pakistan hammered Arul and his mates in Utrecth, but the player-turned coach is now tasked with trying to help his charges connect the dot, and hold on to a winning start.
In the Sultan of Johor Cup, Malaysia took the lead against Australia, but lost 2-1. And then took the lead against New Zealand, but then gave away a 1-1 draw to the Kiwis.
Arul summarised that except for three, the other 15 players have not even played in the Malaysia Hockey League, leave alone an international match. And that was why they were too excited before the Australia match, and could not settle down even after 70 minutes.
There was better composure against New Zealand, but sill, the holding power was lacking. And today, they are expected to face their toughest match of the tournament against raging favourites Britain.
The British have brought down almost the same side which played in the previous SOJC and have scored seven goals in two matches, without conceeding a goal.
They blasted Pakistan 5-0 and then India 2-0. Malaysia are the third Asian side in their line of fire, and it could be a massacre at Taman Daya if the players go on sleep mode more often than attack mode.
The plus side is that Malaysia have showed that they are the fittest side in the tournament, and have better skills than players from Pakistan and India. And only missing from the recipe to success was building on the third pass in the opponents 25-yerd line.
For, Arul has uncut gems in his palms, and he needs to be careful when he shapes them, because once cut, diamonds remain the same shape for millions of years.
If Arul can grind the right attitude into these boys in the SOJC, winning the Junior Asia Cup and qualifying for the 2016 Junior World Cup would be a breeze and not a heart-break.
Note: Arul Selvaraj's Hockey CV explains: 81 international caps for Malaysia and I retired after the 1998 Utrecth World Cup age 24. My personal phlosophy is that coaching is NOT just being present on the field during matches or training sessions, but more of an individual who is able to adapt as a friend, teacher, manager and physologist to my charges.
WEDNESDAY: Australia v New Zealand (4pm); India v Pakistan (6pm); Malaysia v Great Britain (8pm).
P W D L F A Pts
G BRITAIN 2 2 0 0 7 0 6
AUSTRALIA 2 1 1 0 3 2 4
INDIA 2 1 0 1 2 3 3
MALAYSIA 2 0 1 1 2 3 1
N ZEALAND 2 0 1 1 2 3 1
PAKISTAN 2 0 1 1 1 6 1