One step forward, two steps back, story of India's hockey stagefright

On the evidence of the last 10 days at the World League Semifinal in London, David John may have to temper his views a bit.

Published: 26th June 2017 02:15 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th June 2017 07:53 PM   |  A+A-

India's Mandeep Singh, left, and Canada's Gordan Johnston in action during the Men's World Hockey League semifinal, 5th/6th place match at Lee Valley Hockey Centre, London. | AP

Express News Service

CHENNAI: When David John, India’s high-performance director, spoke to Express last month, he made the point about how this next Olympic cycle should be India’s time to shine on the world stage.

“This is going to be our cycle... our time,” he had said during a phone interview from Bengaluru.

On the evidence of the last 10 days at the World League Semifinal in London, he may have to temper his views a bit.

Finishing sixth (they lost to Canada 2-3), in isolation, at a global event isn’t bad. But finishing sixth at a meet sans Belgium, Australia and Germany (they all play in South Africa in two weeks’ times) is an opportunity lost to build on some fine finishes over the last few years.

Having won bronze at the 2015 World League Final at Raipur and a silver medal at the Champions Trophy at the same venue last year, this is a setback.  

What will hurt Roelant Oltmans & Co is the fact that they have once again failed to produce their best against the best. The Dutch coach had, ahead of the match against Netherlands, rightly said, ‘the real tournament begins now’.

Even though they may have swatted aside arch-rivals Pakistan 7-1, the victory was expected. Netherlands was going to be a different ball game. Since that comment, India have won one and lost three.

In that aspect, it’s safe to say this tournament has offered nothing new from an Indian perspective.  They beat the sides who have caused them no problems in recent times and they lost to sides who have given them headaches in the past. While there was a significant positive in terms of forwards finally converting chances, it came in batches.

The missed chances against Malaysia and in the 5-6th match was a case in point. Against the latter, they converted only two of their 10 penalty corners. That’s amateurish. Coach Jugraj Singh echoed that point while speaking to Express.

“We missed loads of chances against both Malaysia as well as Canada,” he said. We were good in some games but weren’t at our best in other games. Sixth is not where we wanted to finish. I was personally aiming for a top three.”

Oltmans also mentioned the importance of a top-three place before leaving. Interestingly, the 63-year-old lashed out at the media after the defeat to Canada on Sunday. “You write negative stuff about the team every time India loses a match.” That is a curious little comment in itself because that is not really the case.

Especially when the tournament has been viewed by many as an aberration.  But questions on their big match nous will keep increasing until India can produce something substantial. For all the talk of improvement, if they continue this trend into 2017, they may be called flat-track bullies. It’s up to the team management to address the anomaly.

swaroop@newindianexpress.com

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