We need more exposure in the build-up to Rio: Roger van Gent
Coach feels this sort of matches will help India know its strength and weaknesses.
Raipur: Three weeks into his new job, Indian men's hockey team strategic coach Roger van Gent feels the Sardar Singh-led side needs as much as exposure as possible against top teams to prepare itself for next year's Rio Olympics.
Van Gent says even though India has improved by leaps and bounds over the past few years, which is reflected in their surge in world rankings, there is still plenty of work to do in order to be a potent force in the Olympics.
"We still have a lot to do and that's the reason we need to play this sort of hard matches. It will allow us to know our strengths and weaknesses. The more information you get by playing the best teams in the world the better it is for us.
These matches show where you can improve and what you are doing right," Van Gent told PTI on the sidelines of the ongoing Hockey World League (HWL) Finals here.
"We need to gather as much information as possible.
Although nine months look like a long time but in reality it is short. I think this is the best way to start our preparation for Road to Rio."
Van Gent is a popular figure in the Netherlands, where he coached teams like HC Den Bosch, Orange and Black HC Tilburg.
And taking into account his experience, the Dutchman said the only way to iron out India's inconsistent showing is to play more against the top five teams of the world.
"Yeah we are inconsistent and that's a fact and that's normal because we are not playing that much against top teams on a regular basis. You can only get consistent when you get to play a lot of matches against these teams," he said.
"You can only get better and learn when you play top teams because they will show you where you have to improve.
They will show you whether you are getting better or not. We have shown that we can compete against the top teams but to that in every match you will have to play a lot of games against those opponents."
The three-match Test series against Australia preceding the ongoing HWL, was van Gent's first taste of competitive hockey with Sardar Singh & Co, and the rubber provided him a clear idea of the picture that lies ahead of him.
Van Gent's main responsibility is to analyse the opponents as well as his team's game and provide feedback to iron out the mistakes. But since taking over the Dutchman has been busy fixing India's perennial problem - defence.
"I analyse opponent and I also analyse our own team. I am specifically working on our defence and teach them how to handle pressure situations.
"Now a days all the teams play with a strategy and we too follow the same. But strategies which we devise cannot be implemented in two days. It's also about unlearning things. It takes time and especially when you are playing against the top teams of the world," he said.
Van Gent was busy with his club coaching in Netherlands when suddenly he got a phone call from his long-time friend Roelant Oltmans, who is also the chief coach of India, enquiring whether he was interested to come here.
"I got a call from Roelant. Roelant and I knew each other for long time. He gave me a call in July-August asking I was interested to come over.
"I found the offer very exciting. It's always exciting to go to a country which has a good national team. India is getting higher and higher in the rankings. Over the years Roelant and his team did lot of good work and I want to help them," he said.
The Dutchman knows that the road ahead is very tough and like every time, expectations will be high from the Indian fans in the Olympics but he refused to predict anything.
"It is very hard to predict it now. We are working on our weaknesses, we are trying to improve but I cannot guarantee a medal. No team can guarantee a medal. Our aim is to get a good ranking," Van Gent signed off.