Champions Trophy litmus test for new Indian men’s hockey coach Harendra Singh
With leading hockey playing nations in fray, the Champions Trophy in Breda, The Netherlands will be a litmus test for Harendra Singh who was appointed coach of the men’s squad.
India face Pakistan in its opening preliminary round match on June 23, followed by Olympic champions Argentina on June 24. The tournament also includes Belgium, Australia and hosts The Netherlands.
The focus will then shift to Asian Games from August 18- September 3 which offers an automatic qualifying spot for 2020 Tokyo Olympics. India will be defending the gold medal they won in Incheon Games.
After the poor show at the Commonwealth Games where the Indian team, under Sjoerd Marijne, finished fourth, Hockey India decided to try out Harendra Singh at the helm.
Last week members of the men’s team including skipper Manpreet Singh met HI top brass and expressed their unhappiness over playing style and selection of chief coach Marijne. The players also hinted of having faith in Harendra.
The major achievement of Harendra’s coaching career, spanning over two decades, has been victory in 2016 junior World Cup. He is yet to prove himself with the senior team. It will be Harendra’s second stint as full time coach at the senior level. In fact, it is after a long time that an Indian coach will be at the helm again.
Incidentally, it was Harendra who was the last Indian coach of men’s team when he was given the reigns for a brief period in 2009. After that Spaniard Jose Brasa took over, with Harendra as his deputy in 2009. Since then several foreign coaches have been tried out only to be sacked before the end of their terms.
Former national coach Vasudevan Baskaran supported HI’s decision but had his fingers crossed, saying it’s going to be a challenging task for Harendra because getting into the top seat so close to the Asian Games could add to pressure.
“Harendra has been associated with coaching for long. He should be able to communicate better with the players. It will be a plus point at this moment,” he said.
Another advantage for Harendra will be that many players of the victorious 2016 junior World Cup team have now graduated to the senior squad.
“On paper it’s an advantage, but it all depends how the players respond in the matches,” Baskaran added.
Harendra was assistant to Baskaran during 2000 Sydney Olympics and 2006 Doha Asian Games.
Report not made official
However, federation hasn’t officially come out with their report on the performance of the team and what actually led them to this swapping.
Despite having players who have had played over 100 international caps, high performance director David John blamed India’s dismal performance to team ‘wilting under pressure’. “We were getting so many chances but could not convert,” he had said.
The government on the recommendation of federation has been hiring foreign experts, but India’s unimpressive show continues in major tournaments including Olympics, hinting at the overall standards of hockey in the country.
Last year when Harendra was appointed coach of the women’s squad, he expressed his disapproval saying, it would have been better if given chance to coach men’s team. “Now, he has got the opportunity, he should grab the chance and prove it,” Baskaran said.