The India-Pakistan cricket rivalry is an all-pervading obsession on both sides of the border. If rivalry, however, is dated and ranked, the one on hockey field takes the seat at the head of the table.
Though Pakistan is not competing at the Hockey World League Final, India would still be hoping to outdo their traditional rivals. In last year’s Champions Trophy at Bhubaneswar, the last international hockey competition held in the country, Pakistan failed to win a single match in the group stage, and finished at the bottom of their pool. They still went on to reach the final, beating two stronger and in-form opponents in quarterfinals and semifinals.
Roelant Oltmans’ India would not only be hoping to do the same but also outdo their traditional rivals by winning the title. Just like Pakistan in Bhubaneswar, India has failed to win a single match in their Pool, losing to Netherlands and Argentina, a 1-1 draw against Olympic champions Germany was the lone consolation.
But it is easier said than done. To reach the final, India would have to win three consecutive matches and that seems nearly impossible for a team struggling for consistency.
India were pathetic against Argentina, excellent against Germany but again floundered against Netherlands, making mistakes in the second session to lose 1-3.
“The performance has not been consistent enough, that’s clear. We have been good in certain phases. Against Germany we played really well. There’s room for improvement,” said coach Oltmans after the Indian team’s practice session on Tuesday.
In the next round, they will now face Great Britain who toped the table thanks to a 3-3 draw against Belgium on Tuesday. They started superbly in their last group stage encounter and took a 2-1 lead by halftime. But the Belgians were not done with, they fought back superbly twice, rallying from 2-3 down to draw the match 3-3, Tom Boon converting a penalty stroke in the 42nd minute to pull them level.
With mistakes in basics derailing the team again on Monday, the session was mainly devoted to trapping and short passing.
“For me the most important thing is that we need to be patient and take some more time when we execute our plans. Every attack from us has been 100%. The boys are playing the way I want them to play. But too many times, we lose possession somewhere on our way. And we lose energy, a lot of energy, in winning back the ball, the same energy is needed when we are in the final third,” Oltmans said.
On the forwards messing up routine things like trapping the ball, Oltmans said it may not be their mistake all the time. “It’s simple to say that. But we also need to look at the kind of passes they receive. So, sometimes it looks like the forward is not picking up the ball, but the pass itself is terrible and trapping such balls under pressure is not easy. I have said many times that we need to improve on our passing,” the coach added.
These are not problems that could be solved overnight, but Oltmans has to find a solution to them as soon as possible. Though there are bigger challenges ahead for India, including the Olympics at Rio, the process of redemption, at least, should start with their quarterfinal in Raipur.