New Black Sticks coach Colin Batch gained another insight into the challenges he faces rebuilding the men's national hockey side when an error-prone New Zealand lost to Champions Trophy surprise packets India in Melbourne last night.
It hasn't been a happy homecoming for the former Kookaburras assistant, with his tenure now featuring a 3-2 loss to a remodelled Germany and a disappointing 4-2 defeat to a side ranked five places below the Kiwis and only at the tournament because they were granted a wildcard.
Undeterred by the concession of an early own goal, India responded to lead 3-1 at the break at the State Hockey Centre and although Nick Wilson trimmed the deficit two minutes after the restart India continued to pepper Devon Manchester's goal.
The rookie handled the inquisition bravely but could not prevent Danish Mujtaba ensuring the former powerhouse were the only pool A team with a perfect record.
New Zealand, missing six players from the London 2012 squad, were more accurate in the second spell but the damage was already beyond repair, leaving Batch to heap praise on debutant Manchester and lament the sloppy work of his teammates.
"There were some pleasing things from him. No one likes to lose, no one likes to have goals scored against them but he made some good saves and made some good decisions as well," said Batch, who is auditioning Manchester and fellow rookie Hamish McGregor as Kyle Pontifex's long-term successor.
Manchester was often exposed because of a crippling turn over count, an area the team must address.
"We started OK but let the game slip away. One of the things we wanted to try and control was the counter attacking from India and we certainly didn't do that in the first half," Batch said.
"We gave them too much ball and tried to force things a bit when we got behind. The first 20 minutes of second half I thought we played quite well, we scored a goal but lost control towards the end.
"The guys are quite frustrated but there's belief there that we can keep improving so we'll regroup and keep moving forward."
New Zealand play England tomorrow in their final pool match and realistically face a quarter-final against the perennially strong Australians or Dutch on Thursday.
England, the world No 4, were also upstaged by India but rallied to defeat the Germans for the first time at the Champions Trophy yesterday so the Black Sticks face a tough assignment.
Their attacking resources are likely to be stretched for a second time after experienced striker Stephen Jenness sustained a hand injury midway through the second spell after he was hit by a stick.
Scan results should be available today but the initial prognosis by medical staff was not encouraging.
If Jenness is ruled out he joins Hugo Inglis on the casualty list after the 87-cap striker returned home to nurse a thumb broken during a warm-up match.
India were last at the London Olympics and are ranked 11th in the world, a status likely to be revised if their giant-killing run continues when they take on the Germans in pool A's finale.
In pool B Australia and the Netherlands are unbeaten after their 0-0 draw yesterday while Pakistan started a fine day for the subcontinent when they beat Belgium 2-0.
- © Fairfax NZ News