The next 20 months, starting from April 1, will be very crucial for the Indian men’s hockey team. In 2018, India will be participating in the Commonwealth Games (April 4-15), Champions Trophy (June 23-July 1), Asian Games (August 18-September 2) and of course the World Cup at Bhubaneswar from November 28 to December 16.
With that in mind, chief coach Roelant Oltmans has chalked out an intense programme and a major component of that is grooming players from the Junior World Cup winning team to replace the seniors in a phased manner.
Oltmans will be experimenting with players this year, especially at tournaments like Sultan Azlan Shah Memorial in April, an invitational three-nation tournament in Moers, Germany from June 1-6 — which will also involve Belgium and a series of matches against Belgium, Holland and Austria in August.
These events will be before and after the Hockey World League semifinal in London from June 5-25.
“Then we will play the Asia Cup (Sept 30-Oct 8) and Hockey World League final (in December) and in between we may have some matches with Australia. So the year through we have quite some matches.
“We need to have 30-40 matches per year internationally to groom them. We have 33 players in the squad and we need to give the youngsters enough chance to showcase themselves.
“We always take same set of players to tournaments and it doesn’t work all the time, we have to bring in the others. We tried that last year in Champions Trophy by leaving out some senior players and it worked,” Oltmans told Hindustan Times in an interview on Monday.
The Dutch coach said they will be using competitions this year to build up for the hectic schedule in 2018. “There also you have to prioritise. Next year, the two most important tournaments for me are the Asian Games, because it is the Olympics qualifier, and the World Cup.”
Asked about developing talent base in the country, Oltmans said the National Hockey Academy started in New Delhi is a move in that direction.
According to him, one of the negative points of the Indian system is that players come into the national coaching framework late, when they get into the Under-21 squad. The national academy will have players in 14-18 age group and trained by top coaches. Though Oltmans will not be involved with that as he is no longer the high-performance director, he will still keep an eye on the programme.
He says his ultimate aim is for India to win a medal in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. His contract is till 2020 and the 62-year-old coach will be taking a call on his future only after that.