Indian players once again at the receiving end of the stick

Hockey: World Cup: Frequent umpiring anomalies hampered hosts chances

Another incident in a long list involving India and the umpires surfaced at the Major Dhyanchand National Stadium during their World Cup game against South Africa on Monday night.

The move to cancel out India’s goal and go for a video referral that went in favour of the South Africans in the crucial game was strange to say the least. The ambiguity in the rules might have worked in the umpires’ favour but it only helped in confirming the way the ball rolls in this sport.

India suffered very early in the tournament when Shivender Singh was suspended for three games (later reduced to two on appeal) for an offence the tournament director Ken Read found to be “reckless and deliberate.”

The man who stood like the guardian of fair play, however, turned a blind eye to offences later on in the tournament, including the blatant elbowing of Pakistan’s Irfan Muhammad by England’s Iain Mackay in their pool game.

Shivender’s absence hurt India in more ways than one, with the team playing with one man short in crucial games against Australia and Spain. On Monday, luckily, India managed to survive the problems, with the players showing commendable calmness under pressure.

In the past, Indian players have often paid the penalty for questioning the umpires’ decisions repeatedly, but here, they were quick to get on with the game, eventually succeeding in forcing a 3-3 draw that will pit them in the clash for seventh and eighth places. Indian coach Jose Brasa too didn’t go overboard criticising the officials after the game. He spelt out his stand very clearly while stating that the umpires too could make mistakes.

“There was no reason to give a short corner to South Africa at that point (following their team referral). It was very clear that the ball was lifted on to Vikram Pillay’s body. The rule states that if a ball is lifted onto another player who is within five metres, it is dangerous play. So there was no reason for a referral also,” said Brasa, who was also surprised by the delay in asking for the referral.

“We have been told it has to be immediate but in this case, we had already scored a goal at the other end when the umpires decided to go for the referral,” he said.

Brasa, like other coaches here, said there was no reason to scrap video referrals. “It is good, it should not be scrapped but we need to improve it,” he said.

India will now be up against Argentina from Pool A in the match to decide the seventh and eighth places. Either seventh or eighth, it will be their best performance in the World Cup since 1994.

They were fifth then but in the three tournaments after that, they ended up in ninth, tenth and eleventh spots respectively. A marginal improvement then, but for a place among the elite, Brasa’s men have a fair way to travel.

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