By Jaspreet Sahni
New Delhi: Hockey India (HI) is probably one of the most professionally-run sports federations in the country, bringing hockey back up in the top bracket of world rankings and giving players a career they can bank upon. But 2017 doesn't really reflect that with events on and off the field pointing towards more valleys than peaks.
In strike contrast to 2016, which saw India winning the Champions Trophy silver medal and the Junior World Cup, besides Narinder Batra getting elected as the president of International Hockey Federation (FIH), the first eight months of 2017 have gone through turbulence on a number of occasions.
Sorry defeats against Malaysia and Canada at Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and the Hockey World League (HWL) Semifinals in London led to widespread criticism, while Hockey India's souring relationships with FIH are unfathomable despite Batra as president. Add to that Hockey India League going off the 2018 roster and India withdrawing from the coming Hockey Pro League, the players too are concerned about their game-time and pockets.
In such a scenario, and with Asia Cup and HWL Finals lined up to round off the season, it needed somebody from HI to step up and reassure the fans about the game's health. And it was HI's High Performance Director, David John, who answered all those concerns in a chat with Zee Media.
Summing up India this year…
David: The word is inconsistent. We tend to have some good performances, like against Pakistan (beating them twice at HWL Semis), and can be disappointing like against Malaysia and Canada. We have to be consistent to win tournaments, can’t have ups and down.
On reviewing the flop show at HWL Semis in London…
David: I didn’t have a discussion with coach Roelant (Oltmans). I myself have reviewed the matches. When we are going to meet the teams (we lost to) in future, we will be much more consistent.
Oltmans’s role going forward…
David: Like coaches do, he has evolved. I think by introducing junior boys in the squad, it has given Roelant new energy, working with young enthusiastic players. He worked with them at the (2016) Junior World Cup. These young boys are keen to learn; and for a coach, I think that’s what you want from your squad. Roelant has a lot of knowledge to give in that area.
Effects of no HIL in 2018…
David: I think it will have a positive effect. The last 2-3 years our seniors have played a lot of hockey, minutes in matches. They come out mentally tired. Next year, we need to make sure they are fresh. We are going to play the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the World Cup. It’s (no HIL in 2018) actually a positive for senior players.
Will withdrawal from Hockey Pro League cost India international exposure?
David: I don’t think it is a setback. It is likely they (European teams) will come here and play practice games for their matches in Australia. I can see Belgium and Holland coming to play in India on the way to Australia and New Zealand.
On the injuries to PR Sreejesh and Rupinder Pal Singh…
David: Sreejesh has advanced in his recovery (from knee injury he suffered during Sultan Azlan Shah Cup), but he won’t be ready for the Hockey World League Finals (in December). I trained with him a couple of times, and he is in really good spirits. Rupinder Pal has also put in a lot of hard work (to recover from a ruptured hamstring) and is ready to re-join the camp later this month.
Sreejesh being away from the squad is good thing in a way that it is keeping him fresh and we need back-up goalkeepers. So they are getting good exposure. Indian hockey will benefit from that in the long run. While Sreejesh not returning this year might be a bad news for the fans, we want him fit for a very difficult 2018.
The transition of juniors
David: We did very well with a young team (on recent Europe tour) and gave them exposure against two best teams (Belgium and Netherlands) in the world. These young players certainly have talent and capability, got exposure against quality opposition. Six of those I saw in Europe did a really good job. They weren’t nervous and showed poise. Dipsan (Tirkey) and Varun (Kumar) very good.
Do we know our best 18 for the Asia Cup and HWL Finals out of the core group of 33?
David: We have about 25 on our mind after this last tour (of Europe), which is a very healthy position. There will be a lot of competition for places. Young players have showed capability to play at a higher level, which will put a lot of pressure on veterans.
Home series with Germany
David: I hope Germany will come before HWL Finals. They will play matches in Bhubaneswar before the tournament. They are amenable to the idea, we need to finalise the dates.