SA teams have strong chance this year in India

2010-10-01 00:00

THE South Africa men’s and women’s hockey teams have an opportunity to get amongst the silverware at the Commonwealth Games (CG) in New Delhi, India, over the next fortnight.

The South Africans have never picked up silverware since the CG introduced men’s and women’s hockey as one of the team sports in 1998 in Malaysia, but the nature of their performances in the respective World Cups this year suggest that might soon change.

And with all the matches live on SuperSport, the action will provide a feast of quality hockey.

Not that SA are world-ranked high enough to give them favoured status in Delhi.

In Pool B of the men’s competition, England, New Zealand’s Black Sticks and Canada are all ahead of SA in the rankings and must be favoured to compete for the top two berths that will ensure semi-final clashes in the cross-pools.

However, head coach Gregg Clark’s lads were unlucky not to finish anywhere from seventh to ninth instead of their eventual 10th place at the Hockey World Cup held at the selfsame Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in Delhi eight months ago.

And this time round only the CG countries are competing, and if SA beat Canada first-up and then New Zealand next, they will likely just need a solid win against Trinidad and Tobago without having to worry about England in their final match as they will be through to the semis already.

Clark told The Witness from Delhi yesterday that SA drew 2-2 with 2006 CG silver medallists Pakistan in a warm-up match to underline they will be competitive against all-comers. Captain Austin Smith’s lads fought back from a two-goal deficit at half-time to equalise through penalty corners from ace drag-flickers Justin Reid-Ross and Gareth Carr.

Pakistan, defending champions Australia’s Kookaburras, India, Malaysia and Scotland are in Pool A.

The women’s draw sees head coach Giles Bonnet’s girls in an even more favourable position, only having Australia’s Hockeyroos expected to beat them in Pool A with their main rivals for a semi-final berth being India, who beat them for ninth place at the recent Hockey World Cup in Rosario, Argentina.

Scotland, and Trinidad and Tobago, should be comfortable victories for captain Marsha Marescia’s lasses.

The women’s Pool B looks fairly plain sailing for England and New Zealand, with Canada, Malaysia and Wales making up the numbers.

The SA girls competed with the best in Rosario and held their more highly rated peers until half-time in each match, including eventual gold medallists Argentina and bronze winners England. They also beat world number eight Spain.

With all this, the South African men and women are still decided dark horses, though, and nobody outside the continent will give them as much chance as their local fans do.

Despite them now being scattered all over the country, and indeed the world, many of the SA players have links to Pietermaritzburg in one way or another and of those still close at hand, much interest will focus on Maritzburg Varsity’s Tommy Hammond and KZN Inland cricketer Tim Drummond, both of whom are world-class midfielders.

And fear not the snakes and monkeys putting the South Africans off. This writer shared a room with Hammond in Pretoria when both were collecting awards at an SA Hockey Association function.

A stagnant river outside our window ensured a night of dive-bombing mosquitoes so voracious that yours truly never slept a wink. Hammond? Totally unfazed, he just swotted them off with the nonchalance of a defender dealing with a tricky aerial ball.

They quickly lost interest in him and zoned in on me.


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