Hockey India must shoulder the blame for Commonwealth Games debacle

When the final hooter of bronze medal match between India and England rang, every Indian hockey fan has just one response to Indian team’s performance – disgust.

Apart from last two minutes against England in the final pool game, Indian team never really clicked, and was always the second best team on the field of play.

While the players have usually borne the brunt of fans for their performances but this time it was Hockey India and the team management who is being questioned by the fans because of actions taken by them.

It all started in the month of September when Roelant Oltmans, the then coach of Indian hockey team was sacked because he could not promise Gold medal in the Commonwealth Games to the team management and High Performance Director David John.

Sacking of Oltmans meant, Sjoerd Marijne who was then coaching Indian women team was brought in as men coach while World Cup winning coach Harendra Singh was assigned as coach of Indian women team.

Also read: People always have opinions about selections of teams

While the new fans that joined the game were ecstatic on the team winning the Asia Cup and beating 11 men Germany for Hockey World League bronze, the older fans, who have been following the game for more than 10 years were worried. Worried about how the team was performing, worried about the selection policy, worried about discarding experienced players in favor of young and inexperienced players. It was chalked up to a young coach being favourably inclined to younger players.

Before team left for the Commonwealth Games, coach Marijne was really hyped and optimistic regarding the team’s performance in the upcoming tournament, even promising the best performance and assuring the nation of a medal despite keeping the two best players – Sardar Singh and Ramandeep Singh, being left out of the team.

After all this, what came in the tournament was not altogether surprising. While the team was expected to face difficulties against the likes of England, Australia and New Zealand; India even struggled against weaker teams like Wales, Pakistan and Malaysia.

Add to that reports of how the coach was asking the players to prepare their own training programs and play with their own tactics in addition to the ones about how the High Performance Director was only focusing on team fitness; and the general wave of disappointment seemed justified.

At the end, the hopes of millions of people back home came crashing down as the team kept on struggling to perform.

We are not angry at the team losing but it’s about the manner in which we played, the response of the team management over the team’s performance.

Now it’s time for the team management and Hockey India to respond truthfully to us.

From 2011 to 2018, we have only heard one thing from the coaches or the players, about how fit the players are and how they are going to show off their abs once they win a medal in Olympics. Never have we seen them talk about the strategy or the tactics that they intend to employ against tougher oppositions.

All said and done, India has failed to win a medal in the Commonwealth Games (after the coach promised Gold) and so it is time we ask some questions to the team management and Hockey India who so far have been shielded against fans wrath:

a) What is the rationale behind the team’s selection? Is fitness of the players the only criteria to make the team? Do skills and experience even matter? If the skills do not matter why not get players from Ironman challenge who are the fittest people on earth?

b) Why were Sardar Singh and Ramandeep Singh not selected for the team for Commonwealth Games despite knowing the fact that there was a need of a playmaker in the forward line and someone to support Manpreet Singh in midfield?

c) What is the agenda of the High Performance Director David John for Indian hockey, who by profession is a fitness trainer and only cares about the fitness of the players despite knowing the fact being fit is just not enough in hockey when skills and tactics are necessary?

d) Under what criteria was David John made a High Performance Director of Indian hockey teams as professionally he is a fitness trainer?

e) Why is Sjoerd Marijne asking the players as young as 18 to prepare their own training plans and asking the players to create their own strategy to play? If the players are going to create their own strategy, what is going to be his job role? What is he being paid for? Media interviews?

f) Why are the players are always held accountable for team’s performance, why not the coaching staff and the selectors who select the players?

g) Some players were clearly out of form and not fit to play, despite that why were the selected?

h) What are the actual goals of Hockey India, what do they expect from India in Asian Games, World Cup and more importantly 2020 Olympics?

i) When Jamie Dwyer can play till 36, Mark Knowles till 34 and Barry Middleton is still playing at 34, why are Indian players discarded once they turn 30? What is the rationale behind it?

j) Why is there so much focus on penalty corner experts instead of traditional defenders and, despite this, why is the penalty corner conversion rate still so poor?

Many still dream of the glory that India achieved from 1940s to 1960s and many thought they had seen the team reach the nadir in 2008 when the team failed to qualify. If this slide is not arrested now, similarly grim days are not too far.