New Delhi: The India camp for the coming men's hockey Asia Cup was in full swing. A team-building exercise under new coach Sjoerd Marijne was on. Each of the 18 players barring one had blindfolds on. The one who hadn't was required to guide the 17 others to a predetermined destination. He was shouting "left, right, straight" and the difficult part was that all 17, blindfolded, needed to move in the same direction - the common goal. Such activities are now at the heart of Team India's training regimen under Marijne, reinforcing trust factor as the squad embarks on 'Mission Asia Cup'.
Marijne replaced fellow Dutchman Roelant Oltmans in the hot seat last month, inviting mixed reactions to Hockey India's (HI) decision asking its women's team coach to take charge of the men. But the smoke over that has settled now. The team is already in Dhaka, having transitioned from one coach to the other.
"Not much different than Oltmans, since both have Dutch background and follow that style of hockey," said captain Manpreet Singh explaining that the switch-over was smooth and spared of hiccups.
Oltmans was 63, an old warhorse but a wily, proven coach. Marijne is 43, young, relatively inexperienced at this level but more importantly an advocate of players-first approach. His predecessor tried to be bossman, leading to his ouster.
Marijne, upon taking charge, got the boys around him and said that the team's progress depends as much on the trust factor as on skills and other aspects.
"His strategies revolve around the trust factor. The more we trust each other the better we will play as a close-knit unit. He encourages sharing. He says none of the players should hesitate in coming forward with their views, even if they disagree with his suggestions. He welcomes dialogue and engagement," Manpreet said.
"His instructions are simple: Don't carry the ball too long and far, pass it at the first possible opportunity and move forward, create space to receive the ball again."
The HI selectors have persisted with veterans Sardar Singh and SV Sunil despite their average show over the past few months. Being seniors, their job is now not just to perform but also guide youngsters in the team.
"Sardar and Sunil have a lot of experience, and it always helps. They will mentor youngsters, guide them, let them know where they can improve and the way to go about it," the India captain said.
Sardar has of late been playing in deep defence, almost acting as the third defender; but Manpreet said he is the 'free man' among eleven on the field.
"Sardar will play as the free man in defence, helping both the back-line and moving up in between to assist the midfield," Manpreet explained. "I will continue in the role of the central midfielder, with Sardar Singh Chinglensana (Singh) and SK (Uthappa) the other available options in that position."
India, in Pool A, will face Pakistan on October 15, which will be the first time that Marijne will have a taste of one of the fiercest sports rivalry.
"He is not thinking about the India-Pakistan match. He wants us to focus on the whole tournament and take one step at a time towards a common objective," Manpreet said.
Besides Pakistan, India will take on Japan in their opening match on October 11 and hosts Bangladesh on October 13. Pool B comprises Malaysia, South Korea, China and Oman.
As per the tournament format, top two teams from Pool A and B will quality for the Super 4s stage where they will play each to decide the two finalists.
India are the top-ranked team of the tournament and won the last of its two Asia Cup trophies in 2007. With four titles, South Korea is the most successful team besides being the defending champions from the last edition held in 2013.