CHENNAI: Roelant Oltmans is usually someone who keeps his emotions in check. But it was interesting watching his reactions when India played Belgium in the just-concluded World Hockey League Final in Raipur.
His face had the look of a man who had just lost a big bet against a couple of loan sharks. He was extremely animated at half-time and his gestures wouldn’t have been out of place at a poorly conducted orchestra. Some of those raw emotions gave way to utter delight when he saw the side beat Netherlands in thrilling fashion to clinch third spot.
He had fashioned a turnaround at half-time by moving Sardar Singh up front and it was a move which paid dividends. The team played at a much higher tempo, a key factor in upsetting the settled Dutch side.
“It was something we had tried once before (moving Sardar up front) and at half time and I consulted my strategy coach (Roger van Gent) and we thought it was the right time to move him upfield and it paid off,” Oltmans had said after the classification match.
But the skipper himself focussed on getting things right ahead of the Olympics. “We have been working on tiny details on field. And it showed today (Sunday). But we will pick on the positives from this tournament. We will celebrate the medal (for a day) and focus on the Olympics,” Sardar said.
It is that last sentiment which is key, for India, at this point in time, are a team overly reliant on chaos and unexpected anarchy. Coming into the match against the 2014 World Cup runners-up, India had scored four goals in their first five games. That they scored four goals in nine minutes in the bronze-medal play-off should be treated as an outlier, not the beginning of a trend.
Problems also persist over the combination of a forward line that too often goes hiding in big moments. The absence of a competitive second ‘keeper will cause Oltmans sleepless nights. The pain on his face was clear as PR Sreejesh, who was playing on with three painkillers, went down after a ball struck him near his thighs during the warm up before the Belgium match. He wasn’t out there for the anthems and Harjot Singh spent most of his warm ups picking balls from the back of the net.
This is where other teams who were present in Raipur have a head start. Most of them experimented with youngsters in the starting line-up. Some like Great Britain decided to not bring eight experienced internationals to help develop a greater pool to select from.
India sacrificed that option and have a bronze to show for their efforts but Rio will tell whether it was the right one.