Santander, Spain: India survived a late fightback from South Africa in an 11-goal humdinger here on Sunday to beat them 6-5 in the first friendly hockey Test, and their coach Michael Nobbs believes the experience will keep the team in good stead at the London Olympics.
"We learnt quite a few things today as a result of this game that will help in the coming matches and at the Olympics," he said. "It looked to be, after some of the other games we had [against Spain], a little bit easier, but whenever you get complacent, things happen; and this was just the case here."
Nobbs said his team was under pressure for the 10 minutes Bharat Chetri was suspended, allowing South Africa to come back and equalise. "We started at our usual tempo and were playing well. We scored early and had the vast majority of the play. A counter-attack led to our captain [Chetri] taking out a South African forward and then getting suspended for ten minutes. This put us in quite a bit of disarray for that time as we had rested Sreejesh for the game and then had to play Ignace [Tirkey] in the goal for 10 minutes. We also had a penalty stroke against us for this tackle and they scored, so it was 1-1."
Nobbs said the close match will help the team learn what not to do in the future and at the Olympics.
The Australian felt the players erred by getting defensive even when leading 6-1 in the second half, which allowed the South Africans a look in. "We had about twenty minutes to go and stepped right back, and at this level that's a mistake and they started to come back. Some poor play resulted in us giving away a field goal and two corners in which they scored,” he said.
The closely-fought game helped Nobbs assess his players’ fitness after three matches in four days. "We have just played three games in four days and this was [a] test to see how we coped with fitness playing a team that is fresh. Although the score looks close, the final goal they scored was in the last minute of a corner."
India will take on South Africa in the second Test on Wednesday after a rest day on Monday and Tuesday.