We saw signs advertising the Sultan Azlan Shah International Hockey Tournament as we drove from Ipoh city to the mushroom farm on the first day we arrived. Having attended some sporting events in South Korea, I knew it would be fun to go see some sport while here in Malaysia. The best thing is that the event had free entry. So, on the opening day of the tournament, we turned up at about 4pm to watch Australia play Canada and then to watch Korea play India.
Neither of us have ever watched a hockey match before. We both dabbled a bit with the sport in high school but didn’t really play that much. So we weren’t sure what to expect. It turns out that hockey is quite a good spectator sport. It’s fast moving and energetic. Goals are hard won but not as difficult to score as in soccer so the game moves quickly while still having a good tactical element. And the relatively small field means that you can see the action from almost anywhere on the sidelines.
The first match was a white wash by Australia who defeated Canada 7-0. Australia played a relentless attacking game and didn’t stop running the entire match. The team seemed so professional. The coaches used tablets to monitor the game and each of the players was wearing a heart rate monitor under their sleeveless tops. Even the Australian contingent of spectators all wore Hockey Australia uniforms and seemed quite disciplined in their lack of boisterous support for the team.
On the sidelines a group of Malaysian school children in green and black uniforms waved a large plastic Australian flag and chanted cheers. They were as excited by every Australian goal, attack and defensive effort as if they were a group of Australians. I don’t know whether local schools or clubs selected foreign teams to support or how the school came to be so enthusiastic in their support for Australia. Later in the day, another school would arrive to support Korea in the same way.
We stayed for the second game of the day: Korea v India. During warm up the difference between the way the two teams approached the game was clear. The Koreans seemed extremely disciplined while the Indians seemed more fluid.
After the national anthems were sung, the game was on and the difference between this and the previous game became obvious. While Australia attacked and ran for the entire game against Canada, the Korean and Indian teams played defensively against each other. I wonder whether anyone kept statistics about the number of passes pushed backwards towards each team’s own goals. I bet if they did they would have found that more passes were made backwards than towards the goals. Attacks on goal only seemed to come from set plays so it was no surprise that the score ended in a 2-2 draw.
The best entertainment in the Korea v India game came from the sidelines. Just as the game started, a group of about 15 Indian men turned up and sat next to us. They cheered loudly enough to fill the stadium. It was good natured support for their team. They chanted, they clapped and they danced with every good play. Unfortunately for us they moved at half time to sit at the other end of the ground to be closer to their team’s second half goal.
It was fun to attend the hockey and wonderful that it was free to the public. As far as spectator sports go, I enjoyed it in the same way as I enjoy rugby league. I would certainly go to a hockey match again if the opportunity arose again.
Oh and I learned that hockey is actually played on a wet field. I never knew this. But during the half time breaks and between the games sprinklers were turned on to we the field. It was Paul who told me that usually the fields have water feeding from under the astro turf and this is why it always looks like the hockey field has just been rained on.