Subsequent to their medal-less finish at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Australia earlier this month, some of the senior members of the Indian men's hockey team got together and met coach Sjoerd Marijne telling him that to "overly focus on blooding in youngsters" won't help the team win consistently and eventually it will slip down the world rankings, sources close to the team have told Zee Media.
After close shaves in the league stage of the tournament, India managed to finish on top of their pool. But defeats against New Zealand (2-3) in the semifinal and England (1-2) in the bronze-medal playoff have badly hurt the morale of the team in a year that has the Champions Trophy and World Cup coming up next.
India left out seasoned players like Sardar Singh and Ramandeep Singh and selected teenagers Vivek Sagar Prasad and Dilpreet Singh instead. Vivek and Dilpreet had made impressive debuts in the Four-Nations Invitational tournament in New Zealand preceding the CWG. While it earned them a flight to Gold Coast for the big-ticket event, the shoes they had to fill proved a little too big.
SENIORS MEET COACH
"Some of the senior players in the team have had a meeting with Sjoerd and said that they should not overly focus on blooding in youngsters in place of experience, which will only put the team under pressure," the team source informed without revealing any names.
"The level of Test matches and CWG isn't the same. It's unjustified to compare a Test-match pressure to that of a world-level tournament. You need experienced heads and legs on the pitch in crunch knockout games. Dilpreet, Vivek, Sumit and Gurinder (Singh) caved in to that must-win pressure," he added.
"It will not help the team win trophies."
Another team source informed Zee Media that players are worried about the lack of coordination it is leading to.
"Look at Australia. They fielded almost the same team for both Sultan Azlan Shah (Cup) and CWG. And what we did? Sent a depleted team led by Sardar to Malaysia and then shuffled the pack inserting a few fresh cards in it. Whether we took out the aces in doing so is for everyone to decide. But Australia won both the tournaments and we finished fifth at Azlan Shah and fourth in Gold Coast.
"That tells you playing together over a period of time matters when it comes to coordination. Chopping and changing at the doorstep of a major tournament is recipe for disaster.
"For example, Dilpreet won't anticipate a pass from Manpreet (Singh) or (SV) Sunil as well as Ramandeep (Singh) would. Similarly, Surender (Kumar) will coordinate better with Harmanpreet (Singh) or Rupinder (Pal Singh) than Gurinder in defence. Matches can be won or lost in those two-three moves," the source said.
THE 10-MAN GOOF-UP AT CWG
In the pool match against Malaysia, India started the second quarter with 10 men on the pitch and conceded a goal by the time they figured out they have fielded one player less after the first break.
"There was some confusion in the dugout, which led to one man less on the field. Unfortunately, we conceded a goal before we noticed. Thankfully it didn't cost us the match," the source informed.
It's an unacceptable error at the international level, whatever be the pace of the game; and the buck stops with the coach.
MARIJNE HAS WORK ON HAND
Marijne was appointed as coach in September last year, at which time he was in charge of the Indian women's team. He replaced fellow Dutchman Roelant Oltmans in the hot seat, while Harendra Singh was handed over the reigns of the women's team.
There was a lot of hue and cry over Marijne not having any experience to coach a senior men's national team, but he silenced those by winning the Asia Cup and then with a bronze-medal finish at the Hockey World League Finals last year.
While it takes nothing away from those two achievements, both for the coach and the team, but the Asia Cup team had Sardar, Ramandeep and dependable defender Surender in it. All three were overlooked for the CWG where India drew 2-2 with Pakistan, survived a Welsh scare to win 4-3, defeated Malaysia 2-1 and then had another last-minute 4-3 win against England in the pool stage.
Marijne had called his CWG squad "unstoppable" before flying off to the Gold Coast. The team looked anything but that in Australia. Now on April 26, when the review meeting is expected to be held, the stakeholders at Hockey India must ask all the tough questions and go the distance to make the necessary course-correction in terms of selection theories.