Indian hockey faces its severest test in the coming days when the team goes up against a truly world-class opposition in the final round of the two-year long World Hockey League in Delhi. Even the die-hard fan would hesitate in backing the Indian team to finish in the top four, much less win the title. In my book, it will be a bonus if we do not finish last, like we did at the 2012 London Olympics.
India’s high performance director Oltmans and chief coach Terry Walsh themselves do not hold out much hope and obviously, they know what they are talking about. Neither has had anything complimentary to say about the team or the players or the system itself, and I am convinced that both are very unhappy in their current roles.
Oltmans, who has enjoyed great success with his country team, the Netherlands, back in the late 1990s, is on record stating that Indian players have the skills, but lack the ability to think on their feet (in other words, not intelligent enough). It is a wonder that nobody cared to ask Oltmans as to why he is still hanging around with Indian hockey. He fared miserably during his tenure with Pakistan team, but our hockey administrators don’t seem to care.
Likewise, Walsh flopped as a coach of the Malaysian team nearly two decades ago and eventually quit the country in the wake of whispers that he was not worthy of the fat fee and perks he was being paid. He had a stint with the Australian and Dutch teams, both winning Olympic bronze and silver medals, respectively. But then, he had the luxury of working with quality players who had the ability to implement plans and strategies on the pitch.
Yet, within a few months after taking charge of the Indian team, Walsh has already fired the first salvo, expressing his displeasure at the “system” that governs hockey in our country. He questioned the bureaucratic functioning of Hockey India while complaining that he as a coach has no decision-making authority. Thus, I wouldn’t be surprised if a disastrous performance in the WHL sees a fresh wave of worms coming out of the woodwork.
The fact is that Indian hockey, for all its talent and players with great skills, is probably one of the worst governed sports in our country. Like I had said in one of my previous columns, merely conducting an IPL-style league and a few international tournaments does little to lift the game out of the mire that it is in now. Hockey is in desperate need for a complete overhaul, beginning simultaneously at the top and bottom.
Hockey India mistakenly believes that hiring expensive foreign coaches would get us the medals. I strongly believe that there is not even a short-term gain. I have said this before and will say it again that if at all we need a foreign coach, then he should be attached to the sub-junior squad and stay with these players over a period of say eight to 10 years as they step into adulthood. It will not only provide the foreigner sufficient time, but also help him bond with the boys while understanding the uniqueness of their backgrounds that shape their character.
If Oltmans believes that Indian players cannot think, then it is not due to lack of intelligence, but rather the collective character shaped by years of subservience. For most Indian players, it is a sin to question a coach even if it is to clarify a point. To top it, there is always the language barrier and a sense of inferiority complex that our players have due to their inability to communicate in a language other than mother-tongue or Hindi and I say this from my experience of moving with Indian teams for over three decades.
Thus, the likes of Oltmans and Walsh, so unfamiliar with Indian culture and thought process, are bound to fail in the long run despite their best efforts and knowledge. More importantly, they should realize that you cannot teach new tricks to an old dog. They are dealing with players who are too old to change style of play and who are guided purely by instinct rather than science, as is the case with Asians.
Anyway, it is far too late in the day to change horses in mid-stream, but the World League will provide a fair reading of where Indian hockey stands on the big stage.