The 2-leg semi-finals of the MHL has brought out some interesting dimensions. The 4 teams who were involved probably has the best hockey players in Malaysia from current internationals both senior and junior plus age group blended with experienced former internationals. TNB played Maybank whilst Sapura took on Kuala Lumpur Hockey Club (KLHC).
On paper TNB had a well balanced side of 2 former internationals with 4 current internationals and the rest were age group players. As for Maybank they relied heavily on their former internationals supported by at least 2 current internationals. The score for both the legs was a 2-1 win for TNB and 2-2 draw for the 2nd match, but sadly the umpires carried the day with the poor quality of umpiring. These are our Class 1 umpires and yet their display was of such a pathetic nature, they seem to give the distinct impression that they were absolutely novice in the field.
If not for the umpires , both the games were good and TNB had that extra edge. To be fair Maybank put up a great fight and credit should go to their Gobinathan, who was playing with a hamstring tear for both the matches. One person who needs mentioning in TNB is their young talent Faizal Shaari whose skill with the ball was outstanding. He remained a continuous threat to Maybank. This is a player who i believe would go places.
A special mention must be made of the CEO of Maybank and his team for finding the time to be at the 1st leg. What was interesting is that he spent time with the players before the game and thereafter sat with their small band of Maybank supporters at the terrace. Great to see him coming to support his team and doing things the simple way without any fuss.
Sapura's game against KLHC was dubbed as the game between Sapura and "Malaysia". The reason being KLHC literally has the Malaysian national players ie combination of seniors and juniors. Whereas Sapura were carrying about 7 former internationals led by Kuhan and had with them the wealth of experience. On top of it, acting as consultant for Sapura was Stephen Van Huizen, a former national coach who has the "Midas" touch with every team he has worked with. So this was a game of former internationals against the current internationals.
On paper, it should have been a simple job for KLHC. Unfortunately this was the team that was given all the resources, at the envy of the other teams. They not only played for Malaysia but they were paid unbelievable salaries and training allowance by their club for much longer periods than other teams or the league itself. Some were even given a lump sum and all of these encouraged them to be influenced by undesirable activities which has sparked off discipline issues. This was the problem with the national team and people wonder whether this was something that grew its roots at the club level. It would seem that once the appetite is full and life is filled with vices there is lack of " hunger" to perform. Was this KLHC's dilemma?
I pose this question as KLHC lost 4-2 to Sapura in the 1st leg and drew 1-1 in the 2nd leg, losing in aggregate 5-3. Yes! the national team lost to the retired internationals and what a ramification it would be for Malaysian hockey. What complicated matters is the "dual" system of control adopted by KLHC in controlling and influencing the team. Officially there was a coach and team manager at the bench yet, at the terraces, the "powers to be" in KLHC were "dishing" out instructions to the team. The "invisible" coach and manager was up at the terraces trying to circumvent policies of MHF and rules of ethics including conflict of interest. What is surprising is that everyone knew about it and so why have such an elaborate system to play the "hide and seek". These are the sort of "play acting" that young players notice and copy in their acts of "ill discipline" ie "what is good for the goose is good for the gander".
All this "hide and seek" choreographed by KLHC team management has come to haunt them as the players miss training or take a "tidak apa" attitude to the game. Team management have put themselves in an awkward position and this is where players tend to take advantage of the situation. Indeed stories have emerged from KLHC sources that players do not care much of the advice of their official coach. They even go to the extent of abusing his personal items when the official coach puts his foot down. In short, the players in KLHC are not an easy lot as they are already "prima donnas" and the younger ones are following suit.
In a way this explains some of the antics that took place in the field at the 1st leg. They were completely "stunned" when Sapura equalised and took the lead to 4-1. KLHC was totally demoralised and strangely a number of players were "out of position". The "hunger" to perform or fight back was not there in KLHC. Chua Boon Huat must be credited for trying to lift the spirit of the KLHC's lads but with little success other than minimising the defeat to 4-2.
Sapura on the other hand tactically moved Jiwa Mohan to defence and Shankar to half-line. This gave Kuhan more breathing space over the 2 half thereby ensuring Sapura's defence remain intact. In the forward line Rodnizam, Pon and supported by Mike were fast enough to get the penalty corners for Kuhan to strike. Meantime Vijiyan kept KLHC's penalty corner battery from making any deadly strikes with his speedy run-out. Sapura's players played with a purpose ie the pride to win and the presence of their Chairman obviously was a big booster.
For the 2nd leg, one need not be a "rocket scientist" to know that KLHC would be coming in "waves" to Sapura's territory to turn the results around. Sapura meantime decided to pack their 25 yd with their entire team thereby giving less room for KLHC to maneuver through the centre. It would seem Stephen Van Huizen and Sapura's coach Prakash may have planned this strategy thereby forcing KLHC to use the "flanks". This would be a wise tactic for Sapura as it relieved the pressure in the centre and gave more breathing space for the main defenders,. KLHC fell into the trap from start to finish and if there was any success it was the 9 penalty corners they earned. They could only convert one while they fumbled on the rest with too many unnecessary set-pieces. They did not play to their strength of direct conversion. Equally Nashihin, Sapura's goalkeeper was in marvellous form.
KLHC remained clueless and aimless and acting like "zombies" not knowing what to do. The more waves of attack they threw on Sapura, Sapura became more dangerous on the breakaway and that is how they equalised through a penalty corner they earned. Sapura maintained the 2 goal aggregate lead and KLHC could not find the way to crack Sapura's defensive wall. Effectively the so called "mighty" KLHC was brought to the ground to taste a defeat that they themselves may not have anticipated. "Goliath" of Malaysian hockey ie KLHC was brought to its kness while Sapura became Malaysia's "David".
KLHC's defeat raises a number of questions. In a nutshell it all falls back to the issue of whether "dollars and cents" is the answer to get players to become good hockey players or a combination of other factors. One of which is team management has to be honest in their acts rather then wanting to be just popular. This way they choose to avoid controversies thereby expecting to remain in the good books of players. The hope is that the players remain in the team thereby ensuring the team has strength. All that is good but if you have "bad apples" in the basket and nothing is done about it, the other apples may also get bad. Could this be the moral of the story of KLHC? It is for us to think about because with KLHC's defeat, it means Malaysia's national team had lost and this also at a domestic league. So what is our hope in the international arena with these sort of players?
It is not yet a crisis in Malaysian hockey but the writing is on the wall. So, MHF take note and do the needful or not we would be inviting the "crisis".