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Chasing the Olympic Glory- Is the Indian Men’s team ready for Rio 2016?

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File Image: Indian Men's Hockey Team

With the countdown for the Rio de Janeiro version of Olympic Games showing less than 100 days left for the Games going live, the teams are deep into strategy-making for the games. So, what do we have for the Indian Men’s Hockey team onto their preparation for the prestigious stage?

One good answer is “wait”. Yes with less than three months for their final preparations, the Indian Hockey team is still to come out with their final list of players.

The other good answer is “fast forward everything”. What the Indian Hockey management can do is to bring the best 20- 30 players together, give’em tasks and responsibilities, and monitor their performances to finalize the final sixteen well before the Olympic Games. It will not only allow the team to gel together, but will also allow the players take control of the chinks and minor issues as a team.

As per the Chief Coach, Roelant Oltmans who emphasized on the importance of improving by another ten per cent in every aspect of the game, while referring to the team’s performance at the recently concluded Sultan Azlan Shah Tournament.

“If we manage to do that then we come close to being medal contender which is our core mission. We also play a few games such as Champions Trophy; Six Nations Tournament which will determine the best combination plays at the Olympics. We also play friendlies with Spain, Belgium and New Zealand. This gives us opportunity to test like we did in Malaysia,” he further added.

While he had no calms about the performance on the Indian Hockey team at Sultan Azlan Shah Cup wherein he felt that the performance was below satisfactory, however, one must not forget that it was an experimental team without some of the regular names.

Also sharing views on the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup was seasoned Hockey thinker, Mr. Saiyed Ali Sibtain Naqvi, one of the highly respected figures of Asian Hockey, who observed that India’s performance was excellent in patches; however, it required much improvement in the area of drag flicking and defense.

Mr. Naqvi, Former National Coach to Indian Hockey Team and Oman Hockey team, was not very happy particularly with the Indian defense against the Australians in the final, where India allowed some easy inroads to the opposition. While speaking about Olympic Games, he felt that it was these weaknesses that the stronger teams are going to exploit and India had to leave no efforts behind in taking control of these aspects. He further said that performance against some of these teams in the next few months will decide whether the team is ready and how much ready is the team for the highly prestigious games.

While return of Raghunath will boost the penalty corner conversion, there is indeed a need of developing more penalty corner experts to avoid any last minute hiccups. Birendra Lakra is doing well at the defense; however, he requires support from other players and in recent past, Gurbaj has done exceptionally well in that capacity.

Mr. Naqvi, who has been associated with Indian and Asian Hockey for past 75 years, however, was optimistic about a better show of the Indian team and expected the team to peak at the right time to bring the glory days back for Indian hockey. Furthering his views, Mr. Naqvi said that it felt heartbreaking for a nation, which led field hockey world for decades, to come out of major sporting platforms empty- handed and the team’s performance at London Olympics saddened him deeply.

Four years from then, he felt the Indian Hockey has improved a lot under the guidance of Chief Coach Oltmans whose main focus has been to groom the team to make them a confident unit.

Also helped in the making is the Hockey India’s initiatives like the league format which has uncovered many fresh talents at junior level and given more exposure to the senior players.

Coming back to the two options, they have their own merits and demerits, while keeping the final sixteen at hold will not support game readiness aspect, fast forwarding can misfire in case there are major issues like injuries or someone going out of form (which impact team’s performance at the Olympic level). And to avoid any negative impacts of the two options, the management can go further finalizing the crux of team with some scope of adjustments in departments where there is none to grab the positions.

What is going to be the way that Indian Hockey will choose will become clear in their next couple of outings and these will decide about their campaign for the Olympic Games.