A few months before the start of the 2010 World Cup, a few senior players boycotted the national camp. Reason? The then chief coach, Jose Brasa, was teaching them the basics. Things like trapping the ball, passing it correctly... the kind of stuff that is taught when you first pick up a hockey stick.
The players’ ego was hurt. How can you teach a national team player to trap a ball? The issue was buried then. The coach relented a bit. The players had their way. The team showed steady improvement since. They won silver at the Delhi CWG, claimed the Asian Champions Trophy and topped it up with a ‘splendid’ show at the Olympic qualifiers. But what an eyewash that has proved to be!
If there was any evidence needed of team’s incompetency at an Olympic level, of them needing to learn the basics all over again, they’ve shown it at the biggest platform of all. Instead of making their return to Olympics hockey with vengeance, the team is going out with a whimper, not even putting up a fight worthy of some praise.
On an average, India had nearly 20 missed traps in each of their five group matches at the London Games. That means gifting possession to the opponents each time they had ball, which is unacceptable at this level. Skipper Bharat Chetri, whose place in the team itself is debatable, accepted: “We need to go back and learn hockey all over again,” when asked to sum up.
The team simply could not cope up with the pressure. Some teams thrive under big-match pressure while some crumble. India fall under the latter category. As the tournament progressed, India looked more and more disjointed; the communication gap between coach Michael Nobbs and the rest of the team became apparent. Already, there are hints of the team divided in two camps, with Nobbs struggling to keep them under control. The uneasiness among the players was evident.
Nobbs even admitted how let down he felt by the players who never implemented the game plan as discussed in the team meetings prior to the match. May be it was the fear of defeat that they fail to tackle. As all teams rose to the occasion, India never got going.
For the opposition, it was easy to sort India out. The team relies heavily on Sardar Singh’s artistry and SV Sunil’s speed. All the teams had at least two men marking these players, negating their strength and frustrating India. After the defeat to Belgium, Chetri accepted the players played only 30 per cent of their true potential, which is a shame. One wonders why the players weren’t motivated enough to give more than a 100 per cent at a stage as big as the Olympics.
Nobbs has said there’ll be changes to the team now. It’ll not be a knee-jerk reaction but a much needed one. The coach is likely to continue but he’ll get a new, young crop of players who will play ‘his’ way. “Yes, we will need changes when we return to India. It cannot go on like this. We do a realistic assessment,” Nobbs said.