A year after Rio, Roelant Oltmans believes this Indian team can be something special
The start of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup was a promising one for India. A battling 2-2 draw against Great Britain was followed by a convincing win over New Zeland before yet again going down to Australia, albeit after playing two quarters of breathtaking hockey.
Whilst a 4-3 win against Japan was one that showed that this new core certainly has the fighting spirit, the following game against Malaysia, showed there is much room for improvement still for a team that is currently ranked number six in the world.
But, credit has to be given to the team for fighting back in grand style in their final game against New Zealand – taking the Blacksticks for a ride as they walloped them 4-0.
Though head coach Roelant Oltmans would have liked to reach the final in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, he found a number of reasons to be positive regarding the side and their performances. The Dutchman sees a lot of improvements in the side and feels that Indian hockey is finally making its presence felt on the world stage.
“We have improved a lot since Rio. We now have a style of hockey that we can call our own and the biggest difference from a year back is that we can implement that style in the game now and especially in attack.
“A year ago I would say what we had was a really good structure and we defended well. We would look to hit our opponents on the counter. But now, it’s not like that anymore. We are having more of the ball than we used to do and the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup was a perfect demonstration of the same.
“In all the games, we had more possession in the games. Against Japan, we had 62 percent ball possession and even against Australia we had 51 percent of the ball. So that helps us dictate the terms more and we can impose our style and tempo on the game.
“And that you can say helped us change the game and that was clear in our game against Japan when we made a comeback in the final quarter. In the past, Indian teams were accused of conceding late. But with more possession now, we can really say that we can reverse the effect.
Need to work on the conversion rate
One of the aspects of India’s game which let them down badly in Malaysia was the conversion rate of penalty corners and that was something which did not go missing in Oltman’s assessment of India’s performance.
“We scored from only 24 percent of our penalty corners. For me, 33% is the acceptable level. Anything below that is not. We can say that maybe if the injection and the traps were good on each of them, we could have reached the 33% mark but you can’t really give those as excuses. We are doing more studies on the teams and their rushers now and see how we can do better next time round.”
India are near the top
But the Dutchman is completely confident in saying that if they can iron out a few issues here and there, India will be one of the best teams in the world.
"I am not really worried because we are creating chances. Our conversion rates from both open play as well as penalty corners need to see an improvement. I would really be worried, in fact, if we were not creating chances.
The coach further reiterated that this Indian team is not afraid of anyone in the world and the players themselves believe that they can stand up against the best. While the Bluesticks continue to struggle against Australia each time the two sides meet, Oltmans doesn’t feel that it is a psychological thing at all.
“We played a great half of hockey against Australia (in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup). We have played well against them before but not as dominant as we were in that game. There were moments in the game that didn’t go our way like the injury to Sreejesh. But I firmly believe that if we keep on improving like we have been, we will soon beat Australia at a major tournament.
“We have to look at the conversion rate and the players have to look to improve at every possible instance and when we get that right, I am one hundred percent confident that we will be one of the strongest nations in Hockey.
“The players know that they are as good as the Australians but we have to prove that. And until we do that, the question about there being a psychological block will rise and that is understandable. And in one of the upcoming tournaments, we have to beat one of the top team to stop the detractors.”
But the 62-year-old also preached patience and gave the examples of Argentina and Belgium – who contested in the Olympic final last year, a fruit of adherence to a long-term program.
Ramandeep, Kothajit, Dahiya and Uthappa back in
Oltmans also announced the squad for the upcoming three nations invitational (involving Belgium and hosts Germany) and the 2016–17 Men's FIH Hockey World League Semifinals that is set to be held in London.
The coach, whilst keeping the core of the team intact, has again opted to rotate some of the fringe players and that sees Affan Yousuf, Manpreet Singh Jr., Sumit and Gurinder Singh miss out. However, Oltmans promised that on their next tour to Europe which is scheduled around August, the Indian team will look at more combinations.
PR Sreejesh, who was injured earlier in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup misses out on the tournament owing to the injury he sustained and will begin rehab work in Chennai next month but is thankfully off his crutches.
Goalkeepers: Vikas Dahiya, Akash Chikte
Defenders: Rupinder Pal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Surender Kumar, Pardeep Mor, Kothajit Singh
Midfielders: Harjeet Singh, Sardar Singh, Manpreet Singh (Captain), Chinglensana Singh (Vice-captain), SK Uthappa
Forwards: SV Sunil, Talwinder Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Mandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh