Tushar Khandker hardly needs any introduction. The 27-year-old Jhansi lad was part of the Indian team which produced its worst-ever performance at the London Olympics. Like his team-mates, Tushar is disappointed with his team’s wooden spoon finish at the Olympics. Tushar talks more about the disappointing London Olympics campaign and the road ahead for India in an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda.
It’s been more than two months since our worst-ever performance at the Olympics. What do you think could be the biggest lesson to learn for Indian hockey?
Obviously, there are a lot of things that we need to work on and come out strongly in our upcoming tournaments. Hopefully, we would be able to address these areas and we can perform better in our two forthcoming tourneys.
The manner in which India unsettled formidable Netherlands in the London Olympics opener, especially in the second half, must have lifted the boys. Do you see any specific reason for the steep fall after that?
We kept committing small mistakes, which are not acceptable in international hockey and paid a heavy price for it.
That Netherlands game would hardly have anyone think of us as the side that would finish with the wooden spot. Did you anticipate that kind of possibility?
To be honest, I never thought India would finish last at the Olympics. Although we may not have been serious medal contenders, I could never imagine we would finish 12th.
How difficult is it to look ahead when a team finishes last in a major competition like the Olympics?
Of course, it is difficult. We know we have a bumpy ride ahead but we can’t keep thinking about what happened at the Olympics; instead we must look ahead with a positive frame of mind. As I have said, we’ve got to work on our improvement areas and play good hockey.
India’s Olympics campaign brought to the fore our defensive lapses and our inability to trap the ball among other deficiencies. Do you think fatigue could have been a factor for such mistakes?
Fatigue could be a reason. But I still feel that our main reason was that we were poor with our basic skills like pushing, trapping, etc. Looking at the bigger picture, I reckon a lot needs to be done at the grassroots level.
India have two important tournaments coming up in Australia – the Lanco International Super Series and the Champions Trophy in Australia – in December. What do you think India should do differently to reverse the slide?
First, we should focus more on improving our basic skills like pushing and trapping, along with fitness. And then, we also need to plan things properly to get the desired results. Results will surely come later if we as a team give our best.
Teams like Australia, Netherlands and Germany are dominating world hockey. All these countries have a robust hockey infrastructure, which is providing a strong supply line of players to the national team. Do you think this is one area where India really needs to pull up its socks?
In India, the infrastructure for hockey is nothing as compared to that in Australia, Germany or Netherlands. We hardly have 10-odd turfs in India which are in working condition. We’ve got to have more astroturfs all across the country, so that youngsters can take to hockey in a big way.
A team like Belgium under Australian coach Colin Batch fared so well at the London Olympics. Surely, nothing is beyond India if adequate measures are initiated if we are to take Belgium’s performance into consideration?
I haven’t seen them play on a regular basis, but yes, one thing is sure, if a team like Belgium can perform so well at the Olympics, why not India?
Your are born in a hockey family (your dad and uncle played at the national and international level). How much of a help it is to take up a sport after having seeing your near and dear ones play it?
Of course, it helps a lot. Whatever I’m today is because of my family. Their support and encouragement have been pillars of strength for me.
There is a lot of talk about the emergence of Indian Oil’s 18-year-old drag-flicker Gurjinder Singh – the youngster who impressed all in the inaugural World Series Hockey. What’s your assessment of him?
Gurjinder is a talented drag-flicker but he has to work hard. Since he is only 18, he can only get better.
How excited are you about the inaugural Hockey India League?
Hockey India League will raise the profile of hockey in the country. I’m excited about playing in the HIL. The league should be a big draw as it would feature all the top hockey players of the world.
You have played with different coaches over a period of time. How do you rate Michael Nobbs as a coach?
Michael Nobbs has brought about many positive changes in the team ever since he took over. There is little that a coach can do if the players don’t perform. It’s unfair to blame the coach when the team is not performing.
Michael Nobbs was praised by all when India qualified for the Olympics on an impressive note. And suddenly, a terrible show at the Olympics evoked angry reactions from the same fans who were lauding him. What do you have to say about that?
I can’t say anything about the fans’ reactions. It is up to them to praise or criticise our performance, we don’t have any control over them.