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