Defence has been the spoiler, says hockey Olympian Mohammed Riaz
Indian hockey is improving and there is no need to worry on the inconsistency seen in recent times, said Olympian Mohammed Riaz. On eve of Eid-ul-Fitr, the enterprising and energetic former India international speaking to Sportskeeda from Chennai appreciated the present Indian team for their belligerent performance against Pakistan in the Hockey World League semifinal round.
“If one has to be critical there are many things to be said, especially the loss against Malaysia and Canada, but as a whole India have been improving at every step,” said the Arjuna Award winner, who has seen the best and worst of Indian hockey as a player.
An all-round player of repute, the former India captain represented the nation mostly between 1990 and 2000 and has played two World Cups (1994, 1998), two Olympics (1996, 2000) and two Asian Games (1994, 1998).
With his decade-long experience, Riaz understands very well all the aspects of Indian hockey. His stint as coach has also helped in spotting the negatives and positives with ease. To be recalled, Riaz assisted coach Michael Nobbs during the 2012 London Olympics.
A candid Riaz, who is presently busy with his official responsibilities at Air India, responded positively to a query on India’s chances in the World Cup next year.
“We still have time to plug certain anomalies, which is prevalent now,” he said, pointing out that playing in front of home crowd will fire up the team and their confidence.
The thing about India’s defence
The defence has been the spoiler for Indian hockey for quite some time now. Going by the past records, India has more often conceded last-minute goals to surrender and now it is just the opposite as the team’s sloppy defence allows early goals to be scored. Either way, the team loses the grip and squanders the advantage.
The 1999 Tamil Nadu Sportsman of the Year did not hesitate to agree upon the fact that defence needs to be stronger.
“One must understand the fact that European teams and also teams like Argentina are very nippy in the first quarter. Malaysia too adopted similar tactics to succeed. Only tight defensive strategies can help in countering the fast-paced attacks early on. If we succeed denying the opponents early advantage half the battle is won,” he pointed out.
“What’s happening now is that we tend to allow space very early and help the opposition’s cause. Instead, we should have the capability to settle and tighten up things quickly to blunt the early forays,” the 45-year old explained
Meanwhile, though many have attempted to point finger at the coach, the son of former international umpire Mohammed Nabi voiced his support for Roelant Oltmans.
He was of the opinion that Oltmans’ rich experience has been one of the reasons for the improvement seen in Indian hockey. India is currently ranked sixth in the world.
“The Dutchman is a seasoned campaigner and being a Hockey India High-Performance Director for quite some time now, he understands Indian hockey well and has been doing a good job,” opined the former India assistant coach, whose best moment of the career was winning the gold in 1998 Asian Games.
He, however, refused to comment positively on his possible return to the coaching fold.
“At this point, I can’t say anything and moreover I am officially committed to Air India. Having to head the southern region, the responsibilities have increased and that has kept me away from the game,” said the strong performer of the past for Indian Airlines and Tamil Nadu.
After the London Olympics, where India hit the nadir. he got involved with state hockey affairs and has also been active with Hockey India League, last season being an exception.
“Though my schedule is packed I keep trying to be involved with the game,” signed off the Olympian while visualising better days for the eight-time Olympic champions.