CHENNAI : After years of leaning towards the left, India has taken a shift towards the right in recent times. This isn’t a commentary on India’s political discourse but the direction adopted by the men’s hockey team. There was an abundance of Dutch coaches in the recent past but it seems like Hockey India have opted to bring in an all-Australian set-up among the top management and support staff.
One casual scroll of the HI website confirms this — Elena Norman (HI CEO), David John (HI high performance director), Graham Reid (chief coach), Chris Ciriello (analytical coach) and David MacDonald (physiotherapist), all of whom hold permanent positions with HI, hold Australian passports. This is over and above the invitations handed out to former players on short-term assignments.
For example, Kieron Govers, a multiple World Cup winner with Australia, has started to work with India’s strikers ahead of the Hockey Series Finals in Bhubaneswar in June. This is a similar assignment to the one that saw former Kookaburra, Glenn Turner, coach the strikers of the women’s national side late last year. After almost half a dozen years of employing a Dutch system — before Sjoerd Marijne, current women’s coach, there was Roelant Oltmans, Paul van Ass (both former chief men’s coaches) Roger van Gent (former analytical coach) among others — the World No 5 have gone back to a country that was once their raison d’etre. Before the London Olympics, John served as an assistant to Michael Nobbs, who was the then chief coach. Even though India retained that fast, exciting brand of hockey under Dutch managers, there was greater onus placed on technical skills.
Players were also encouraged to problem solve on the pitch, a Dutch trait. On the face of it, going back to an Australian brand of hockey might make little discernable impact. Both structures depend on fast exchanges and a game built on pace. But there could be positive change because the country has always felt more at home under an Australian coach. One only needs to go back to when Terry Walsh, the last Australian at the helm of affairs in India, was coaching the team in 2014. It was no surprise when the team won the Asian Games, India’s biggest achievement in the sport in recent times. Under Walsh, the team once again became a force to be reckoned with.
It’s the kind of synergy that Reid seeks. “As an opposition coach, I have enjoyed watching first hand, the steady rise of the team to one of the most exciting teams... I have a passion for the fast and attacking brand of hockey that India plays which marries closely with the Australian style.” This will also come as music to the ears of a few of the purists who had become bemused by the ponderous as well as possession-based play in midfield. But one former coach, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, had a warning for Reid. “India is known for sacking coaches irrespective of the method they want to implement.”
That is a valid point. Both Walsh and Marijne were sacked.