2018 Commonwealth Games: India’s quest for men’s hockey gold begins with clash against Pakistan
The India men’s hockey team will begin its campaign at the 2018 Commonwealth Games with a pulsating Pool B clash against arch-rivals Pakistan on Saturday (April 7).Updated: Apr 06, 2018, 18:33 IST
Will Roelant Oltmans’s presence in the Pakistan camp change the current trend in India-Pakistan hockey clashes? India have beaten Pakistan in seven successive matches with Oltmans as their chief coach and high performance director. They had their biggest win against the archrivals under the Dutch master coach’s tutelage at the Hockey World League Semifinals in London last year. (Highlights)
Though Oltmans has taken over only a month back and that is not sufficient for him to use his magic wand and transform the team, matches between India and Pakistan are won or lost in the mind and not on the turf.
The rivalry has lost sheen in recent times with the standard of hockey in Pakistan going down as they have lurched from one setback to other. They finished last in the 2010 World Cup in New Delhi, had failed to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and are currently ranked 13th in the FIH rankings. India, on the other hand, are on a resurgence and are ranked sixth in the World and one of the favourites for gold in the Commonwealth Games.
India have enjoyed an upper hand in the rivalry, having done well in the second decade of this century though Pakistan have a superior head-to-head record, winning 82 matches against 59 by India with 30 draws.
So will Pakistan be able to buck the trend and register their first win against India since the South Asian Games in February 2016? These matches are not decided on the basis of ranking, past record or winning streaks. They are played on passion and the team that controls nerves on that particular day wins the match.
Both coaches Sjoerd Marijne and Oltmans know that it would be more of a battle of nerves than tactics. “The players on both sides only think about the outcome and totally forgets the process. Emotion overrides structures and strategies (in these matches),” Oltmans said. Aware of how much such things matter, the 67-year-old coach has already tried to deflect focus from his team by labeling India the favourites.
Marijne does not want to think of the rivalry and instead wants to concentrate on the basics that his boys have to follow. “It’s important for us to keep our structure and a lot of teams have problems with that, and that we stay calm. We don’t need to score in the first two minutes, if it happens, it is good, if not, then we have to be patient,” Marijne said.
“We will let the ball do the work. It’s really hot, 28-29 degrees and we play at 2.30 pm, so that will be difficult circumstances. So that’s why we have to stay calm,” he added.
This will be India’s first match at this Commonwealth Games while Pakistan were held 1-1 by Wales in their opening encounter. England lead the table following a 7-0 victory against Malaysia and a big win on Saturday will put India firmly on course for a semi-final place and maintain their chances of improving their silver-medal finishes in 2010 and 2014.