Interview with striker SV Sunil: India Hockey on right track with Oltmans
The ‘unwanted controversy’ over the exit of head coach Paul Van Ass and induction of Roelant Oltmans that put Indian hockey in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons were given a ‘decent burial’ by the national team’s resounding performance during their recent European tour, where they won the two Test series against France 2-0 and subsequently the three Test series against Spain 2-1.
The Blueshirts appeared a transformed side with the triumvirate of SV Sunil, Kothajit Singh and Vokkaliga Raghunath marking a return to the national fold after their injury-induced pullouts from the world league.
“We really played as a unit and the results were there for all to see. France gave us a tough fight in the world league but we did our homework and beat them convincingly in both the Test matches. We lost the first Test against Spain after being level at 1-1 at half-time but a poor fourth quarter cost us dearly. One unexpected goal brushing the stick of one of our players rolled in and that really unsettled us as we conceded two more. Our head coach had a long session with us after the game on his expectations and we rebounded in the next two games,” says striker SV Sunil.
Sunil scored in the first Test against France as well as in the first Test against Spain. He believes individual performances hardly matter. “It’s not about me scoring a goal, it about our team doing well. Everybody had to chip in and we did that on the European tour.”
Oltmans is perceived as the right man to take Indian hockey forward, and Sunil has no doubt about this. “He has been in the Indian set-up for more than a year and a half, and knows our players inside out. All our players know him well too and I think with him as coach we are on the right track.”
Much has been said about India’s feeble defence, and Sunil puts things in perspective. “Look, when we a score goal, every team member contributes towards it be it a midfielder or fullback. Similarly, in case of a defensive bloomer, forwards and medios are also responsible along with our defenders and goalkeeper. It is unfair to blame only the goalkeeper and defenders whenever we leak a goal,” he says.
Sunil agrees that India need to work on converting on fast breaks. “We need to score off counter-attacks, not just fast breaks. We even otherwise need to up scoring rate from the amount of chances we create. A lot of times we lose the ball on the counter and our opponents, on their counter-attacks, punish us by scoring. The only difference is that our opponents convert more off counter-attacks, while we don’t. But things are improving as you must have seen we scored a lot of field goals during the recent European tour. Our coach wants us to raise our scoring rate by a few notches and we are in the process of achieving that,” he explains.
The November home Test series against world champions Australia is something Sunil is excited about. “It will be a big series for us ahead of the Rio Olympics. Really excited about doing well against Australia,” he concludes.