Three-part symphony strikes the right chords x3|
August 21, 2003
The Indian Express
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DRAG-FLICK: It?s hockey?s hottest shot when push comes to shove
Amsterdam, August 21: They are the ultimate hockey studs, the equivalent of cricket?s pinch-hitters, football?s sharpshooters. In the blink of an eye, they can assess a pass, control the ball, size up the opposition, plan their attack and hit ? and change a game inside of a couple of seconds.
They are the drag-flickers, the stars of the ongoing Champions Trophy here. While Sohail Abbas, Taeke Taekama and Jorge Lombi, three of the best in the business, have been in top form, India?s predicament can be partially explained by the fact that Jugraj Singh, designated drag-flicker, isn?t in that league.
Of all the changes in hockey, the drag-flick ? the action by which the ball is propelled from the ?D? towards goal following a penalty-corner ? is probably the most exciting to watch. It?s the crowning moment of a highly choreographed three-part movement that relies on speed, accuracy and telepathic understanding. The pusher pushes the ball in, the stopper stops and the flicker flicks ? all ideally inside of three seconds.
The last movement is the fastest; the world?s best drag-flicker, Pakistan?s Sohail, usually propels the ball at a speed of 120 km/hour? just a bit slower than Brett Lee, and over a shorter distance. Defenders standing on the goalline, trying to block the ball from entering, are in a position similar to a batsman facing Lee ? minus the body protection.
Like the specialised penalty-corner, pioneered by Floris Bovelander in the 1980s, the drag-flick is a Dutch invention, prompted by a change in hockey rules in 1994. Earlier, the ball from the pusher had to be stopped outside the D before being hit towards goal. The new rule said the ball could be dragged inside the D but the player had to flick the ball (no hits allowed). He can also dribble and scoop but these are used mainly for variety; the stock shot is the flick.
Though first used by a fellow Dutchman, it had a devastating effect when Bram Lomans played in the 1996 Champions Trophy in Chennai, which Holland won. Once the other teams got over its breathtaking simplicity, the drag-flick became a staple in every arsenal.
The reason, of course, was the high conversion rate, a statistic borne out by the fact that Sohail and Argentina?s Lombi ? invariably leading scorers at any tournament ? have more than 450 international goals between them.
Naturally, top coaches are secretive about their tactics and training method for the drag-flickers.
They will not reveal the exact timings that Holland?s Taeke Taekama and Sohail take to drive the flick ? they are so fast that rival coaches cannot study them even on film.
Sohail said that he normally takes less than a second for flicking. ??We try and complete the entire flick within two second.?? Lombi said he hasn?t noted the timing, Dutch coach Joost Bellaart is reticent about Taekema and Lomans though most of the coaches agree that the time should be around two to three seconds. Indian coach Rajinder Singh said they couldn?t get the perfect time on the computers. ??Jugraj Singh is fast but we don?t have his exact timing.??
Sohail?s rise began when current coach and former captain Tahir Zaman took him under his wings after the 1998 World Cup. ??While playing in the Dutch league, I?d seen how they spent time preparing their drag-flickers??, Tahir told The Indian Express. ?We didn?t waste time in getting Bram Lomans? coach Chipman to Pakistan. He trained Sohail for two weeks and the result is there for all to see.??
So what makes him the best? ??He has both speed and variation??, says Dutch coach Joost Bellaart. ??But it is his strike rate which makes him better than the rest.??
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