Champions Trophy Run May tip-off Indian Hockey's Fate in Rio Olympics
A file photo of Indian men's hockey coach Roelant Oltmans. (Getty Images)
New Delhi: The positivity and practical hopes are much better than London 2012. The results in the run-up have been encouraging and historic, but living in the past doesn't ensure glorious future. On the contrary, it proves counterproductive. That's not the fate Indian hockey will want to meet in Rio Olympics.
An Asian Games gold after 16 long years, the first team to qualify for the 2016 Olympics and a medal in a global event after 33 years - India crossed memorable milestones on its Road to Rio, and the home straight has just arrived.
It can only get better from here, or it should only get better from here. To gauge if that's going to happen, the coming Champions Trophy in London provides the best testing ground.
India couldn't have asked for a sterner dry run than the Champions Trophy, where coach Roelant Oltmans' men can put their preparations to practice against the world's best.
Olympian and former India striker Jagbir Singh has watched this Indian team evolve from close quarters. He has been engaged in a coaching role with Jaypee Punjab Warriors in the Hockey India League that has been India's grooming ground of late.
In the role of a commentator during international events, Jagbir has followed this group's graph religiously and jotted down a few points he is keen to observe at the Champions Trophy.
"Any game before an Olympics is important because you are not targeting any opponent, you are trying to find the best within your own team," he said talking to News18 in an exclusive chat.
Jagbir was quick to share the objectives he would specifically be eyeing had he been in the seat Oltmans occupies.
REGAINING CONFIDENCE ON GOALKEEPING FRONT
India have now been struggling to find a quality backup for their No. 1 goalkeeper PR Sreejesh. Harjot Singh has come a cropper and been dropped from the Champions Trophy squad. He has been replaced with Vikas Dahiya, who is impressive but untested.
"It's important to find Sreejesh's No. 2. We are still a few months away from the Olympics and finding a good second goalkeeper is ultra-important at this juncture to build confidence among the group," Jagbir said.
His absence was felt during India's last outing at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup where Harjot and Akash Chikte took turns in the goal because Sreejesh had been rested for the tournament.
"Depth in the defensive wall and man-to-man marking are often areas of concern," Jagbir, a veteran of two Olympics, said.
"When I say defensive depth, we lose man-to-man marking in our own half," he added with a touch of concern.
Defender Rupinderpal Singh has been rested for the Champions Trophy, giving the young Harmanpreet Singh an extended run on the international turf. He will be keen to continue his good form and work in sync with VR Raghunath in the backline.
"We are shaky at times in controlling our counter attacks because we have a habit of running with the ball every time on counters," the 51-year-old explained.
"I will like the team to continue as it did in Azlan Shah, where they started to pick up on how to earn penalty corners. Also I will like to see the experience players as attackers transforming themselves into strikers.
"Any good team in the Olympics has good attackers with scoring ability and good defenders with drag-flicking power. No one can stop them."
SV Sunil and Ramandeep Singh have improved a little on their scoring rate but still have a tendency to carry the ball longer than they should, turning a promising raid into a futile one.
The rest given to Rupinder and captain Sardar Singh is a rotation policy Hockey India and Oltmans have followed in lead-up to Rio Games, and Jagbir finds nothing wrong in that even if it's close to the Olympics.
"Absolutely right!" he said. Why should we open all the cards beforehand and why shouldn't we try all the options we have! Our ultimate aim is not the champions trophy but the Olympics.
Besides Harmanpreet, Under-21 captain and midfielder Harjeet Singh will also be on the flight to London; and Jagbir feels it's Oltmans' confidence in youngsters that allows him to get the best out of them.
"He has the confidence in these two (Harmanpreet and Harjeet) because they have improved. He is resting two key players, so the role of these youngsters is more important."
Instead of the usual 18 during FIH events, the Olympics allow only a 16-member squad in both men's and women's hockey competitions. Jagbir says that makes it even more important to test all your options to have the best on board.
"I will be looking at each and every option available, each and every player being utilised as an option, who can be used as a multi-utility player – given the constraint of number of players in Olympics," he said.