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Hockey World League Semi-Final: India not yet ready to challenge big boys

India finished sixth in the Hockey World League semi-final in London but there is lot of work to be done ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Bhubaneswar

other sports Updated: Jun 26, 2017 16:34 IST
Soumitra Bose
India’s disappointing performance in the Hockey World League semi-final has shown that the team failed to execute their plans on a consistent basis.
India’s disappointing performance in the Hockey World League semi-final has shown that the team failed to execute their plans on a consistent basis.(Getty Images)

If the Hockey World League semi-final in London was a laboratory for testing India’s bench strength, chief coach Roelant Oltmans will not be a very happy man. The sixth finish in the 10-team competition was the end result of unexpected defeats against Malaysia and Canada at the business end of the tournament that was won by European champions Netherlands on Sunday.

Most European nations are building towards the 2018 World Cup in Odisha. The Hockey World League finals in Bhubaneswar in December this year will be a dress rehearsal of sorts. By virtue of being hosts, India will figure in both tournaments, but can the team really make itself count?

A big test will come in the Asia Cup in Dhaka in October. By then Oltmans should be able to pick his 18 that must form a cohesive unit before the Hockey World League finals where eight top teams, including Olympic champions Argentina and England, will be seen in action.

Playing world events at home is certainly one good thing that has happened after Narinder Batra took over as international hockey federation (FIH) president in November last year. There has been no shortage of exposure trips and it’s upon Oltmans now to find the right combination.

HOMEWORK

If the Hockey World League semi-final at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre is any yardstick, India were disappointing, and as Oltmans said, the team has been handed some “homework” to do. The failure to execute plans, repeatedly discussed over the drawing board, video post-mortems and team huddles, has been the most worrying aspect.

Is the team not learning or is Oltmans running out of ideas with players with limited strengths? Oltmans remains one of the most respected coaches in the world. In an interview with HT, Matias Paredes, Rio Olympic gold winner and a veteran of 300 internationals for Argentina, said Dutchman Oltmans has played a big hand in making India “skilful and fit.”

Among the Asian teams, Paredes said India were a “tough” unit and could challenge any team in the world. But against Malaysia and Canada, a profligate India blew away that reputation. After Sultan Azlan Shah earlier this year, Malaysia defeated India for the second time running and then Canada turned the tables here to win the fifth place and a World Cup berth.

India thrashed Pakistan 7-1 and 6-1 in the Hockey World League semi-final but they struggled against other nations. (Getty Images)

WASTEFUL INDIA

Oltmans admitted that statistics like ball possession, striking circle penetration and shots on goal have little meaning when you can’t score goals. Against a tactical Malaysia in the quarterfinals, India scored twice and wasted at least four times over to lose (3-2) by a goal conceded in the 48th minute of the match.

Malaysia rode their defensive strategy very well and their quick counterattacks caught India’s defence by surprise. The Canadians adopted a similar strategy, and once again India paid the price for conceding two field goals in four minutes. Conceding goals has been an Indian disease for long that Oltmans has not been able to address.

India scored 15 goals in the four group league games and conceded five. In their last three games, starting with the quarterfinal against Malaysia, India scored 10 and let in 7. Of the 10 scored, six came against Pakistan and in Oltmans own words, “scoring against Pakistan hardly matters.”

India’s loss to Canada in the Hockey World League semi-final resulted in them finishing in sixth spot. (Getty Images)

ATTACKING HOCKEY

Oltmans’ gameplan is generally built around scoring goals. Among the 10 top scorers of the HWL 2017, there are three Indians – rookie drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh and Ramandeep Singh (6 each) and Akashdeep Singh (5). If India scored 25 goals in seven matches in London, by conservative estimates, another 20 were wasted.

“It is unbelievable that we lost to Malaysia and Canada. When we can’t be cool in the scoring area, you don’t deserve to win. Our attitude was not at the required level. It looks like after beating Pakistan, the boys were not determined ...it’s bull****. Beating Pakistan is not what we want to achieve,” said Oltmans.

Oltmans is hopeful of a turnaround.

“Sometimes defeats help pinpoint problems better. We have the videos and we know that stats. Except the Holland match, all the stats are in our favour. We must keep faith in these boys. They have the quality to be among the world’s best,” he said.

India’s next international assignment is in August before the “do-or-die” in Dhaka in October. Oltmans’ India will be under the scanner for sure.