Will wholesale changes give Indian hockey the right end of the stick?
A spate of sackings and appointments over the last few weeks could act as the tool needed to bring the desired results.
New selection panel. New chief coach. New national coach. New goalkeeping coach. New video analyst. Hockey India (HI) has been on an appointment drive over the last few weeks.
The door was slammed on Michael Nobbs, while opened for quite a few, ranging from change in roles to fresh offer letters. But as the 'new' HI selectors sit down to watch the trials in Bangalore and trim the 48 Asia Cup probables to 18, the question is this: what's the way forward?
It doesn't seem that long ago when Arjuna Halappa, after being relinquished to the India stand-bys, said: "I'm not motivated to play for India anymore." It definitely wasn't long ago when Gagan Ajit Singh came out of retirement to defy HI and play World Series Hockey. But the two 'old foes' of Indian hockey's administration have since mend fences to the extent that they now sit pretty on the new HI selection panel led by BP Govinda.
Having played for India in the recent past, both Halappa and Gagan will definitely bring with them the knowledge of what contemporary hockey requires. But they will have with them seven other selectors, who come from different eras. Govinda, Syed Ali and RP Singh have all played in different decades and have seen hockey evolve on the astro turf. The challenge for the five of them (there are four women selectors) will be to first reach the same wavelength and take it from there.
Halappa, who went to the extent of leaving the Indian camp after being put in the stand-bys for the Olympic qualifiers in 2012, will have to work overtime to earn the confidence of players and fellow selectors. So will Gagan, who has been known to have strained relations with his team-mates during his playing days. Their ironical appointments present them a different challenge than what the other selectors face.
There's a sea change on the coaching front as well. Nobbs is out, but the man roped in to assist stand-in chief coach Roelant Oltmans has raised some eyebrows. MK Kaushik has been given the appointment letter to join as national coach, just three years after he was accused of sexual harassment as coach of the Indian women's team. "The management of Hockey India is conspiring against me to malign my statute in the sports fraternity," Kaushik had then said. The world has changed in three years. He has been presented the appointment letter by the Hockey India CEO herself and has a job to do. Whether Indian hockey needs an Indian coach or another foreigner will be judged by how Kaushik performs.
Another important addition has been made to India's backroom staff in the form of Dave Staniforth as goalkeeping coach and strategic analyst. Nobbs and Oltmans have often pointed out the lack of backup for PR Sreejesh. On that front, HI must be credited for investing in Staniforth. The likes of PT Rao, Sreenivasan Rao and Nanak Singh stand to benefit from the South African, who was with the inaugural Hockey India League (HIL) champions Ranchi Rhinos.
Hockey India have also recognised the need of a full-time video analyst and brought former India international, who is now an expert in video analysis, Dhananjay Mahadik to fill that role. His appointment also shows HI's intentions of bringing in technology to help the team improve. A full-time video analyst will surely add to India's coaching arsenal.
But all these appointments are just the tools that need to be used optimally to bring the desired results and give shape to a champion team. India have failed to do that repeatedly in the last three decades. Whether this new group can turn it around remains to be seen.