This category contains 19 posts

Roelant Oltmans: Only one crazy person

“I think there’s only one crazy person in the world, and that’s why I’m staying.”

—Roelant Oltmans . 

Remembering Mohammed Shahid while he fights yet another battle in Gurgaon

I don’t remember watching Mohammad Shahid play.

Hassan Sardar—his Pakistani counterpart—was much more of a household name in those days.

But I do recall—faintly—the 7-1 drubbing of the Indian men’s hockey side in the 1982 Asiad final in New Delhi.

It was a tragedy—a loss wasn’t unexpected—-but  humiliation was disaster.

Mohammed Shahid was a member of that squad; he was also part of the 1980 side that last won gold for India at an Olympics.

But it was goalie Mir Ranjan Negi who was anointed villain of the piece. He was termed a ‘traitor’ and there were claims that he had been bribed by his opponents.

Negi said:

“Everywhere I went, I was abused by the public. Nothing matters to me more than playing for my country. I am a proud Indian and will always be so. There were lots of things that happened in the run-up to the final. You find out. I will not speak about the politics that contributed to our defeat.”

His team-mate Zafar Iqbal later said:

“The entire team was to blame; we forwards missed chances, the defence left huge gaps that the Pakistanis exploited. Despite making great efforts to cover the gaps, poor Negi became a sitting duck and the Pakistanis scored at will […] He was blamed solely, but every player was to blame […] The atmosphere was vicious. I remember someone claiming that he had seen Negi come out of the Pakistan High Commission on match eve […] Some even enquired whether Negi, with his first name Mir, was Muslim.”

Hassan Sardar believes that the scoreline was no indicator of how close the final really was.

He says:

“Do you know who the man-of-match that day was? It was our 17-year-old goalkeeper, also named Shahid (Ali Khan) who made more than eight saves that day. Nobody remembers that, the scoreline should have been 7-5 or 7-6, just an indication of how good the Indian team was back then.”

Mohammed Shahid now lies in a hospital bed in Gurgaon fighting for his life against a liver condition that afflicted him following a bout of jaundice and dengue.

Shahid is an employee with the Railways. They will be picking up all his medical expenses.

His condition is still critical.

The Sports Ministry has announced a grant of Rs. 10 lakhs for the former Olympian.

Sundeep Misra of Firstpost describes  Shahid thus:

“In the late 70’s and early 80’s, you didn’t go to watch hockey. You went to watch magic; mesmerizing magic created by a man from Benares called Mohammed Shahid.

Those were the kind of skills that couldn’t be taught. No amount of coaching camps, elite coaches could create supple wrists that, honestly, were an extension of the hockey stick. Shahid, short but lithe displayed his dribbling skills like a card-dealer in a casino. Defences retracted inwards, backing off not willing to take on this twisting and turning dervish whose only challenge in life seemed to be cutting through defences like a combine harvester in a wheat field. Fans watched in disbelief. Opposition coaches gave up. Defenders wanted to quit the sport. Little kids wanted to know ‘dodge kaise karte hain’. Commentators lost their voice if Shahid didn’t have the ball. In those days, Mohammed Shahid was hockey.”

A Times Of India story called him “the genius of dribble”.

Shahid himself was much more self-effacing.

He said:

“Look, I am Mohammed Shahid. That will not ever change. Yes, I was India captain; people said I had God given talent with dribbling skills. Mujhe bhi yaad hai, har waqt mar dodge, mar dodge. Par ek time ke baad mann bhar gaya (Even I remember dodging past players all the time. But after a while, it was enough).”

Sardar has fond memories of playing against Shahid.

He said:

“Yeh bade afsos ki baat hai (It is quite unfortunate to hear of this) Kya kamaal ka khiladi tha! Aisi behetreen stickwork modern hockey mein bahut kum dekhne ko milti thi. We may have been sworn rivals on the field, but I was a Shahid fan. All our pre-match plans would revolve around how to check Shahid and he would simply destroy it all. We could never catch him

But do you know, Shahid and I were part of a dream attacking trio that could never be realised. Shahid would often tell me, ‘Hassan-bhai, had we played together in the same team, no one would have been able to touch us.’ Imagine a team where Zafar was left-in, I was centre forward and Shahid on the right…”

Hassan laughingly recollected an incident during the 1986 bilateral series when he was at the receiving end of Shahid’s wizardry and threatened to sort Shahid out by visiting his hotel room.

He said:

“Blind with rage, I told him, ‘Arrey, mujhe sey panga kyun le rahe ho?! Lag jayegi, toh udte hue jaoge.’ But it just wasn’t us alone. None of the European teams could ever catch him. In the Pakistan camp, we would say, ‘Yeh sabke phephre nikal deta hai, bhaga bhaga ke…”

Shahid has the respect and love of his countrymen, teammates and opponents.

Here’s hoping that he makes a full recovery and soon.


Mohammed Shahid passed away aged 56 on July 20, 2016. May his soul rest in peace. 

Indian hockey team does nation proud at Champions trophy: Can you name them all?

The Mint editorial on Saturday the 18th of June, 2016 read:

“Recently, ESPN did some number crunching to come up with a list of the most famous athletes in the world.

Virat Kohli came in at No. 8. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was 14th and Sania Mirza made a creditable showing at 41.

What are the odds that an Indian hockey player—despite the team’s stellar performance at the Champions Trophy this week—will gain that sort of name recognition even briefly?

It’s an old story.

Cricket is the colossus dwarfing every other sport in India. Even as a few other sportspersons—Mirza, Leander Paes, Saina Nehwal, for instance—have gained prominence, hockey has remained trapped in a cycle of uneven performances, endless administrative squabbles and a lack of public attention even when it performs well.

Will the Champions Trophy and the Olympics see a sustained run of good performances and the spotlight that should come with it or will it be another false dawn?”

The above was the publication’s response to the Indian men’s hockey team’s performance at the recently concluded Champions trophy in London. India finished a respectable second claiming their first ever silver medal at the elite tourney.

India lost just two games—one each to Belgium and Australia. The final was a goalless affair—their antipodean rivals won on penalties in the final.

Yet, the Mint’s  ‘Quick Edit‘ rings true. Any Indian sports lover can reel off the names of every member of the Indian cricket team—possibly even the names of  players of the IPL teams they support. But very few can recall the names of sportsmen in other team sports.

(P.S. That includes me.)

Is the Indian sports lover solely to blame for this state of affairs?

The traditional media namely newspapers, magazInes and news channels devote very little time and space to other sports besides cricket in India.

(Winners hit the headlines more often than not.

Cheating winners even more so. Ask Sharapova.

Nobody cares for cheating losers except the drug-testing bodies.)

That truly is a sad state of affairs.

Especially when this Indian side looks good to clinch a medal at this year’s Rio Olympics.

In the past, Indian hockey teams have flattered to deceive in the run-up to the Games. Their strategies, tactics and players are studied and ploys to nullify their effectiveness are hatched up and unveiled at the Games by their opposing coaches.

Roelant Oltmans seems up to the challenge.

The team keeps improving under his stewardship and it is noteworthy that the side performed much better in their second game against the Aussies.

The team lacks consistency though. They ought not to have conceded a second goal to Belgium—they are vulnerable on the break. The players lack  the speed to fall back quickly enough to thwart counterattacks. And they  have trouble getting the ball into the ‘D’ in the face of concerted defence tactics employed by their opponents.

Should the team be grouped with Australia, another loss like the one to Belgium could spell the death knell for any podium aspirations.

Hockey India announced an award of Rs. 2 lakhs to every individual player of this Champions trophy side.

This Indian side will surely hit the jackpot should they return with a medal from Rio.

In fact, they must—for this victory to be a true, new dawn.


Higher prize money on offer by Hockey India does not tell the full story

Prize Money: BCCI versus HI
Award (in lakhs) BCCI HI
Male player of the year 5 25
Female player of the year 0.5 25
Junior male player of the year 0.5 10
Junior female player of the year 0.5 10
Lifetime achievement 25 30
Total prize money 43 130
Prize Money: BCCI versus HI

Prize Money: BCCI versus HI

Hockey India are more generous employers than their cricketing counterparts—the BCCI.

Would you believe that?

It’s true.

India’s national game body gives away Rs. 1.30 crores in prize money every year, while the BCCI doles out a measly Rs. 43 lakhs.

Don’t bolt for the astro-turf fields yet.

This doesn’t account for the moolah in the IPL and that cricketers are  the highest paid (sporting) endorsers of Indian goods and services.

Other games have a long way to go. But they may be getting there.


Indian hockey players amongst fittest sportspersons on planet Earth

Hockey players are the fittest sportspersons on the planet.

Indian hockey wizards are among the top five fittest teams in world hockey.

That would make Indians among the top five fittest sportsmen in the world.

Quite an achievement.

Would you believe it?

You would , if you had been watching the  Hockey World Finals third-fourth place encounter between Team India and the Netherlands last evening.

10 exhilarating goals pumped in 60 minutes followed by a thrilling penalty shoot-out.

Indian hockey has come a far way and fans can start to believe again that we may just have a medal round the corner at the Rio Olympics.

The School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences of Loughborough University, UK conducted a study that compared three team sports—hockey, rugby 7s and football (soccer).

The two main criteria for measuring fitness were distance run during a game and intensity maintained while running.

Field hockey players were discovered to cover more distance and work at a higher intensity than their counterparts in the other two sports.

A rugby player covers 94 metres, a footballer 125 metres and a hockey player a whopping 140 metres in a minute.

The study said:

“Where a football player spends just nine per cent of the game working at an intensity that sees the heart-rate reaching 85-90 per cent of its maximum, a hockey player can sustain that work rate for 30-40 per cent of the game. A rugby player works at a high intensity for 20 per cent of the game.”

While a hockey player may cover eight to nine kilometres in a game, a soccer player covers an average of over 10 kms per match. The difference lies in the time taken: 60 minutes versus 90 minutes.

As early as April this year, Team India’s physical trainer, Australian Matthew Eyles claimed that the men’s side were among the top five fittest nations.

He said:

“Physically they (Indian players) have improved a lot. When I got here 18 months ago, they were good, lot of them were very good natural athletes but now they have developed a good base. I think any strength and conditioning coach can’t feel content, they always want more from their athletes.

Their speed is good, endurance in good. They are looking really sharp at the moment. So I am happy with them.

I don’t think we are the fittest side at the moment. It’s hard to compare. Australia and New Zealand are always physically good sides. But I think we can definitely match any team now.

In my opinion definitely we can consider India among top five nations on fitness front in world hockey.”

Eyles did not take all the credit for the transformation.

He said he just focused on the basics as the base had been built four years ago with Michael Nobbs in charge and David John as the trainer.

He added:

“When I arrived here I first assessed the fitness level of the players and then followed standard process. I just tried to develop their base and then build them up from there.

I did just progressive things. We built a good base early on and then managed to just keep topping that up. We focused more on the speed and agility, and that got better and better. We have done a lot of work on the pitch and they are getting stronger. They have got a decent strength base.

There is always room for improvement but currently we are in a very good place.”

Eyles named Dharamvir Singh as the fittest player in the team then.

Naming the fittest sportspersons is a tricky debate.

You have to make sure you have the criteria right.

Jeff Potteiger, dean of Graduate Studies and a faculty member in the Movement Science department at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, believes that

body composition (level of body fat),

cardiovascular fitness,

anaerobic power,

muscular strength and

muscular endurance

would complete the list of items to weigh.

Who do you think are the fittest sportspersons?

Flexibility is the key but players must be willing

Does position matter?

Coaches don’t seem to think so but players certainly do.

I know for certain—when playing my brand of gully cricket—I’d never open. Simply because I never felt comfortable facing the bowling right off, maybe because I wanted to have a dekko at the opposition first, or maybe simply there’d always be someone clamouring, “Hurry up and score some runs and get out; I want to bat too.”

That’s beside the point.

It’s psychological.

There’s a comfort factor associated with a player’s favoured position. That’s his lucky number.

Or that’s what he’s been accustomed to playing at or where for a long, long time. To move him around is a travesty of natural justice—to him.

Team Director, Ravi Shastri, the man who began at No.11 and batted his way up to No.1, does not believe that Indian batsmen can own a spot in the line-up. He feels that there’s a crying need for horses for courses. A player’s position will depend on the quality of the opposition.

He said:

“In this team, no one owns a batting position. It all depends on the situation. We will play horses for courses and see what the situation and the opposition demands. Accordingly, we will see what the best batting position in the side is for each batsman against that particular outfit and seeing the state of the series.”

Flexibility is the demanded norm. Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara responded splendidly scoring centuries at No.3 and No.1 respectively.

The ploy worked.

The original strategy, though, of having Rohit Sharma come in at No.3 has fallen flat.

Sharma oozes talent but he needs the extra protection and a long rope for him to succeed. There’s little doubt about his calibre. He needs some time to come into his own. His lazy elegance is his undoing, much like David Gower, but both batters would defiantly deny any such claims vigorously.

(The  most technically adept player—after your openers, of course—should be No.3. In this side, it appears to fall upon either Pujara, Kohli or Rahane to fill this spot. Sharma is probably best at No. 4 or 5. In my opinion, you cannot have Rohit batting at that spot when the wicket’s a belter and then push him back when seamers make the ball talk and he fails. It’s just not fair to the others in the side.)

Former India hockey coach Arjun Halappa is on the players’ side when it comes to switching them around.

Paul Van Ass’ implementation of ‘Total Hockey’ is criticised as being too ‘harsh’.

“It’s very tough. When I started playing under (Jose) Brasa, I was a right winger and I was played as a central midfielder. I got really irritated at first, but gradually when I started to understand what the team wanted, I adjusted. But everyone can’t adjust.

I think it was too harsh on the part of Paul Van Ass to make those position changes straightaway in a big tournament (Hockey World League Semifinals). It could’ve been done gradually. Europeans have their own thinking, and they think they are always doing the right thing. But when they come to India, they have to understand the culture, language and players. You can’t just walk in and get things done the way you like.”

It differs from player to player. Every player needs to feel secure that he will not lose out when he’s moved to unfamiliar territory and where he may not immediately perform as expected. They deserve to be given some time to prepare and adjust. The challenge is mental. Visualization exercises with the team psychologist are not a bad idea.

Results will come when players are happy. Unhappy players are a dampener on performance and results. Process must take precedence.

“If you’re over 30, you’re over,” says Hockey India

If you’re 30+, you’re past it, over the hill, or simply put, too old.

Ageism hit Indian hockey players in the form of an arbitrary ruling from Hockey India (HI) preventing dribblers and keepers past 30 from participating in the Hockey India League (HIL).

Adrian D’souza, Deepak Thakur and Prabhjot Singh find themselves out in the cold without a blanket to keep them warm.

The rule is discriminatory. Foreign players have no such restrictions.

The IPL has no such problems accommodating retired cricketers and on the wrong side of 40. Look at Pravin Tambe.

You can argue that hockey is a different game where fitness is of paramount significance.

The logo of Hockey India

The logo of Hockey India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then fitness tests should be made the criteria, not a number that informs clubs what your birth year is.

English: Dhanraj Pillay, former Indian field h...

Dhanraj Pillay, former Indian field hockey player and captain, attending annual sports meet of GGSIPU in Delhi as a chief guest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dhanraj Pillay turned out for India till the age of 36.

Four Olympics, World Cups,Champions Trophy and Asian Games figure against his name. He still plays hockey at the club level for Karnataka Lions.

Does he have nothing to say?


Dhanraj Pillay, Air India coach, slammed Hockey India for its perverse logic saying:

“I request Narinder Batra to reconsider the decision. Players like Adrian D’Souza, Arjun Halappa, Prabodh Tirkey have left a deep impact on hockey and they are still as capable as they were a few years back. If foreigners who are above the age of 30 can be accommodated, I am sure Indians can as well.

These players have given invaluable services to the sport. Even today in places like Punjab, Delhi, Haryana and Chandigarh, they are a household name. I don’t understand the logic. If we can have foreign players who are much older in the auctions, then why not Indians? Someone like Adrian is still going so well, and deserves to be part of the league purely on form and merit. I request Narinder Batra (HI President) to look into the matter and treat Indians the same way.”

Team coach Roelant Oltmans assures continuity in tactics

If Indian hockey fans were wondering that a change in coaching personnel could have the Indian men’s team floundering with a different set of tactics or coaching methodology, High Performance Director and current coach Roelant Oltmans moved swiftly to address the ‘non-issue‘.

He said:

“During our practice at Shilaroo, we have been working on our attack as well as defence and in the process inculcating in us the attitude to win. 

Defending we do with 11 players and attacking we do with 11 players. Each and every one has a role and they are aware of it.

When we are attacking and we are in the final quarter of the pitch, then our defenders should not stay close to our D. Rather they have to push up and be in a position so that if we lose possession then we have to immediately regain possession.

If our defenders are far back then that leaves a gap in the midfield and in case opponents get possession then that immediately puts pressure on the goalkeeper. So we have to keep our structure in place with our roles specified and this helps get the best out of the team.

I always divide the game in two parts — possession and non possession — and this depends on the skills as well as our cohesion on the field.

With possession we have to ensure that it results in creating scoring opportunities and even capitalising on them. In non possession we have to work on how well to defend, how do we push the attack back and look at getting the possession back.”

Pictograms of Olympic sports - Field hockey. T...

Pictograms of Olympic sports – Field hockey. This is unofficial sample picture. Images of official Olympic pictograms for 1948 Summer Olympics and all Summer Olympics since 1964 can be found in corresponding Official Reports. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

India skipper Sardar Singh said:

“During our training, we enhanced our fitness levels. The team is confident and looking forward to the tour. We have around 35 international games before Rio Olympics and we want to make the most of them. 

Our first match is against France and they have been playing brilliant hockey in the recent years. They will be a challenge for us. We are confident of doing well against France and Spain.”

Oltmans was the man who both approved and dismissed his compatriot Van Ass. The European approach selected was probably first run by him as High Performance Director and then implemented by his countryman.

Team India embark on an European tour where they will play France and Spain in five games.

Continuity in tactics introduced by Oltmans’ predecessor Paul Van Ass will alleviate turbulence and turmoil in the side following the sudden exit and dismissal of Van Ass.

Sardar’s disclosure that fitness issues are being addressed is welcome news. The Total Hockey concept is workable only if the men in blue are able to keep pace with their stronger rivals throughout the game. They should not fade in the final quarter.

Tour results will be closely followed by hockey fans and we can only hope that Indian hockey is moving in the right direction.

Oltmans, however,  struck a somber note about India’s chance at the Rio De Janeiro Olympics.

He said:

“If you ask me can we win [gold] at the Olympics Games, [I would say] it’s a challenge.

The last Olympic Games [London 2012], India finished 12th. The last World Cup [2014], India finished 9th. Numbers, facts, nothing more, nothing less. Do you believe in two years’ time you can win the gold medal? Answer yourself.

But we will strive for it, that’s 100 percent.

We know that we have been close to quite a number of teams and already defeated a number of top teams as well. Champions trophy, we beat Holland. Belgium, we beat them as well. Australia, we beat them quite a number of times in the last year, last time at the Azlan Shah Cup.

Is it possible [to win gold at the Olympics]? Yes, it’s possible. Is it consistently possible? Not yet. But we have one more year to work on that, and I will tell you one thing, we will.”




Major Dhyan Chand is the new men’s hockey coach (Satire)

(This is a work of fiction).

Following a special committee meeting ‘preponed‘ to Thursday, Hockey India chief Narinder Batra briefed the media on the selection of the men’s hockey coach.

English: Dhyan Chand

Dhyan Chand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Batra said:

“We have decided to select the late Major Dhyan Chand as the coach of the men’s squad until the 2016 Rio Olympics. We do not need foreign coaches. We have an illustrious forebear to look up to. Dhyan Chand is a source of pride and inspiration for all generations and we believe that he is the best we can present the boys under the circumstances. This is also HI’s way of posthumously honoring the man given the Indian government has yet to make him a Bharat Ratna.”

When asked how the players’ skills are   to be honed, given that Major Dhyan Chand is not a living personality, Batra replied:

“India has a proud tradition of guru-shishya relationships. Our boys will be modern-day Ekavalyas to Indian hockey’s Dronacharya. Just like Ekavalya proved himself to be a better archer than Arjun despite the master’s absence, our boys will prove themselves on the hockey field and cover themselves in reflected glory. As a mark of respect to Ekavalya who lost his thumb as ‘guru dakshina’, Hockey India will not accept sponsorship from the Coca Cola company, specifically its brand Thums Up, and will also be banning the hand sign as a congratulatory or celebratory gesture.”

It is learnt that life-size statues of the hockey great have been commissioned and will be installed at every practice field in the country. Smaller sized busts of the major  will accompany the team on tour.

Batra added:

“This practice is being tried on a trial-only basis for a period of one year. Should the hockey team fail to perform as expected, more life-size statues and busts may be commissioned of other Indian hockey greats or foreign coaches as desired. The cost savings are substantial and will improve Hockey India and Sporting Authority of India’s finances. This will also still mouths in the media that claim that I have an ego problem and am responsible for a ‘revolving door’ when it comes to selecting and firing key support personnel.”

Major Dhyan Chand’s family members declined to comment when contacted.

Disclaimer: All facts and quotes in this story are made up, but you knew that already, didn’t you?



‘Made in India’ or imported? Coach debate begins…

The furor over Paul Van Ass’ dismissal has barely died down and the debate shifts to whether Indian hockey would be better served by a home-grown coach.

It is evident that Van Ass may have been on Sports Authority of India(SAI)’s payroll but Hockey India satrap Narinder Batra’s writ runs large on the appointment or removal of key support personnel.

The above assumes significance in the context of Dhanraj Pillay’s telephonic conversation with the HI chief suggesting that it’s time to look at national talent in the recruitment of coaching staff.

English: Dhanraj Pillay, former Indian field h...

Dhanraj Pillay, former Indian field hockey player and captain(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Speaking to DNA India, Pillay said:

“I called Batra yesterday (Monday) after all this happened and told him that it was time they considered an Indian for the coach’s job.

Batra sounded very positive about the idea of an Indian coach. He told me that they will definitely think of an Indian coach now.”

Batra confirmed the news:

“Yes, he did call me and we had a chat about this. We will take all decisions after that meeting on July 24.”

A special committee meets on Friday to deliberate over Van Ass’ fate.

Narinder Batra, meanwhile, lost no time launching a scathing attack on the Dutchman.

Calling Van Ass “a liar”, Batra claimed that he had sought the erstwhile coach’s permission before speaking to the team.

He said:

“India’s match against Malaysia got over and the team had done the victory lap. The sponsors and organisers said ‘the team wants to meet you’ and I asked if I was suppose to go on the ground. They said yes and went down’. The first person I met was Paul and then I met the team. We had formed a circle and I asked the coach if I could speak to the players. Paul said yes and that was when I started speaking to them.

I was talking to them in Hindi. I spoke for about 45-50 seconds and told them that ‘your performance needs to be consistent. You had defeated Australia in Australia. You need to be more consistent as you guys are playing together for four years now. Nobody likes to lose, not even the sponsors. So you need to be winning more’.

My next sentence would have been that forget about all the previous matches and concentrate on the upcoming games and try to be in the final. But before I could finish, Paul intervened and said ‘I am the coach and you leave’. His tone was pretty rude.

Then I left, saying that ‘we will talk about this later, we need to talk about this, Paul’. After that India played two more matches, even the women’s team was playing, I watched those matches but Paul never had the time to come to me or ask for any time.”

It is a foregone conclusion that if Van Ass’ ouster is ratified, Indian hockey, in all probability, will have an Indian coach till the Rio Olympics.

From cricket to basketball to soccer, sports federations in India have opted to hire foreign coaches to fill the lacunae between what locals can offer and what internationals bring to the table.

That it also helps counter allegations of parochialism and regionalism dogging the appointment of local candidates is besides the point.

I am not going to argue the merits or demerits of either policy.

What Indian hockey does not need is a stop-gap measure wherein a candidate steps in and molds the side till the Olympics and is then either lionized or made the sacrificial lamb depending on the results achieved.

Continuity has to be the name of the game.

And it would help even further, if recognised coaches were introduced at all levels starting from the sub-juniors to the seniors so that players are grounded in the basics at the right age.

The seniors may grab the headlines and the glory but it’s the youngsters who are hockey’s future and they need to be told in no uncertain terms that they are not being handed step-motherly treatment until they are done weaning.




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