Stop experimenting too much with Indian hockey (Column: Gloves Off)

It’s high time coaches stopped experimenting with Indian hockey ahead of the World Cup and the Commonwealth and the Asian Games later this year. They should be clear what style the players should adopt – European or Australian.

Indian players could not have asked for a better think tank than Dutchman Roelant Oltmans as high performance director and Australian Terry Walsh as the chief coach. Both have impressive CVs and swear by placing India among the best five or six teams in the world. To achieve this, both have to be on the same page.

Ideally, Oltmans and Walsh should come up with a mixture of the two styles to suit the Indian players taking into account their speed and stamina. It should essentially be an Indian style where skills also play a part, more so when the duration of the game is going to be reduced by 10 minutes to 60 from September 1.

The World Cup from May 31-June 15 at The Hague and the Commonwealth Games, slated for July 23-Aug 3 in Glasgow, will be a 70-minute affair. But the Asian Games, starting Sep 19 in Incheon, will be the first major tournament where it will be played over 60 minutes.

The 60-minute game is market-driven as the International Hockey Federation (IHF) wants to make the game quicker, faster and shorter. But it also makes the game more tougher and will test the skill and the speed of the players.

The coaches may like the Indians to take to the European style, considering the continentals have been the dominant force in the sport for over a quarter of a century – to be precise, from 1988.

Come to think of it, since the 1988 Seoul Games, European teams have won the gold in six of the seven Olympics and four of the six World Cups. That’s a staggering record.

Germany have won three Olympic gold medals (1992, 2008, 2012), the Netherlands two (1996, 2000) and Great Britain (1988) once. Australia (2004) are the only non-European to have won an Olympic medal. Germany (2002 and 2006) and the Netherlands (1990 and 1998) have also won the World Cup twice each during this period.

For Indians, integrating the best practices of European hockey with the Australian style could just be the need of the hour. Oltmans also agrees and says the skilled Indians should try to retain their traditional style instead of blindly adopting either European or the Australian style.

But being a Dutchman, Oltmans advocates the European style. Indian players are so skilled they should embrace the European style, which is also all passing but with some speed.

Left to themselves, the Indians they would prefer the Australian style of counter-attack and hit-and-run. There is no denying that the Australian formula will help the Indians to be on top of the game physically for a 60-minute game. But the Indians are skillful enough to play the passing game well. It is tough, but will be rewarding.

(Abhishek Roy is Principal Correspondent at IANS Sports. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at abhishek.roy@ians.in)

IANS