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Is Indian Hockey hopeless?

Tuesday, 17 June 2014 - 7:25pm IST | Agency: dna

The Hockey World Cup ended this Sunday with Australia winning the Men’s trophy for the second consecutive time and their 3rd World Cup win over all. India also participated and finished ninth. They had finished 8th in the previous edition of the world cup which was held at home. India last won the trophy in 1975.

This will, indubitably, give rise to a lot of negative sentiment at home. Some knee jerk reactions will be sought and provided. Another “new” beginning will be made to prepare our team for the 2016 Olympics or the 2018 World Cup. An authentic analysis might be missing though.

Where did India flounder in this tournament? Why couldn’t they improve their performance despite employing a foreign coach, short-corner experts, modern physio, and following a packed preparation schedule? 

India started employing foreign coaches nearly a decade ago after it had been felt that Indian coaches lacked the modern training technique as required in a fast evolving game. Since then, they have had Indian as well as foreign coaches handling the senior side with similar results. We have had Gerhard Rach, Jose Brasa, Michael Nobbs and now Terry Walsh as coaches. Roelant Oltmans is head of high performance. There is also a full fledged support staff to help Walsh in his job and make India a more competitive side. The results, however, still elude them.

This world cup highlighted India’s poor defence. They played two short-corner specialists Raghunath and Rupinderpal, who both fell short of international standard defending. It is one of the most shocking bit of the world cup performance that India didn’t score even one direct goal of the 18 penalty corners they earned in their 6 matches. What is worse is that they conceded 26 penalty corners out of which the opposition scored 7. India has had a string of penalty corner specialists who fell short of international standards as a deep defender but we didn’t play two of them at the same time. India continued to play both of them for the entire duration of 70 minutes. This was a big error. It was the brilliance of India’s goal-keeper Sreejesh Ravindran which saved India from conceding a dozen more goals in the tournament. Sreejesh was arguably the best goalkeeper on view in the tournament.

The debate between Indian and European style of games has been going on for a really long time. It has been suggested that India adopt the European style of passes and power play rather than its traditional system of skilful dribbling in close duels. This debate does not answer how Argentina managed to win the bronze medal while playing a more skillful, close duel brand of hockey in this world cup.

Indian boys at the junior levels continue to be trained even now in the traditional style. If the federation was convinced that we need to change our style, then that change should have been started at the age-group level years ago. This, unfortunately, is not the case. India’s coaches finish an outdated course at NIS, Patiala and then continue to train wards with that old method all their life. Certificate refresher courses are very rare and meant for a select few coaches when they are organised. No attempt has been made to modernise this crucial aspect of Indian hockey. There is a significant gap between Indian and European or Australian coaches and no attempt has been made in the last decade to bridge this gap and develop Indian coaching talent.

Hockey in India does not lack money. It is an old myth which is now commonly accepted by the masses. Indian hockey players are the richest hockey players in the world; the coaches at the senior level are paid well too. There are sponsorship deals struck by the federation and the Hockey India League is a highly successful product which attracts the best talent in the world; talent which gets paid handsomely for a month’s exertion.

The real reason we have not done well is because the hockey administrators in the country have lacked a vision to make India competitive in the game. Best international coaches are needed but their being a foreign coach is not a guarantee of him being the best. None of the coaches that India has appointed for the national team has had recent hockey coaching experience. They either coached women’s sides or coached a men’s team long ago --- and were thus out of touch with the latest coaching strategies and methods. Their attempts were also affected by the federation giving them a select pool of players to choose from. They did not attend domestic tournaments, except for the Nationals which prevented them from watching new talent in a competitive environment. The fact that the talent they had was also schooled in the old style at junior levels compounded their problem.

The situation does look depressing right now but can be improved over a period of time. India needs to adopt a five year plan to markedly change the game in the country. Foreign coaching talent ought to be employed for the age groups under a national coach, who can give them his vision of a national team in the next five years. After this, they should be given all the support by the federation to implement their program. This can help in making meaningful progress in Indian hockey.

This change is crucial at this juncture. A long term strategy needs to be planned and executed by a dedicated team of professionals. Piecemeal solutions will continue to give us grief otherwise and this column will once again have to be written, come the next Olympics or the World Cup.

Ankur Bhardwaj is a corporate slave with an interest in politics and policy. Views are personal.

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