Hungary was a power house in world football in the 50’s and 60’s. Fast forward to today; Hungary has not qualified to play the Euro since 1972.
This can easily happen to India in hockey. This is a clarion call to all well-wishers of Indian hockey, the world over, be it coaches, administrators, scribes, fans. It’s time we understood what it means to have Ric Charlesworth as coach of the Indian hockey team. Aslam Sher Khan has said for the last few years that we badly need a foreigner to put things right for Indian Hockey.
Initially I was skeptical of that opinion, instead blaming the system and players, both past and present, even writing articles to that effect. But now I agree with him completely and these are my reasons:
1. India Hockey Inc. is completely perplexed but mainly confused and that includes fans, coaches and players (old and current), administrators, officials, Indian government, IHF or FIH, scribes, in fact all well wishers of Indian, if not World hockey. We think we know the prescription for the sickness that befalls Indian Hockey, each of us has an opinion, we play the blame game, indulge in one upmanship. But in our heart of hearts, we are not sure. We are tentative; we think we know just like our current coach or Mr. K.P.S Gill.
2. Ric Charlesworth knows our weaknesses (ask Joaquim Carvalho if he remembers the 1986 World Cup in London), having exploited them for so long during his playing days against us or coaching days with the Aussie women’s team. I am not even taking his credentials which are a mile long into consideration, nor his tremendous job and player experience, his love for Indian hockey and his yearning desire to help India and take on a job that has the chance of failure, potentially marring what would be otherwise a blemish less career, uprooting his family, etc, etc..
Just that first point alone makes him more qualified than anybody in Indian hockey. Let me illustrate this confusion with an example; Giving away penalty corners by us and their subsequent conversion rate by our opponents. We compared 2005 to the 2008 qualifiers, since the current team consists of a majority of juniors from the 2005 JWC team. PC’s against India have remained about 4/game. They were converted into goals by our opponents an astonishing 47% of the time in 2005 to 55% in 2008. It did not matter which team it was, in fact weaker teams had a better conversion rate. Chile, Poland, Austria had the highest conversion rates.
When we compared Orissa Steelers (has the defensive back line of current India team) Vs Maratha Warriors in the PHL, in a match in which the former won 4-2, to our astonishment the stats were the same. Warriors 3 Pcs, 2 goals with a 67% conv rate and that too against a Dutch goalie between the sticks for Orissa! We started looking for a common thread. Announcement FIH 2008: Dilip Tirkey, 300 caps, Ignace Tirkey 200 caps, W. Xalxo, 100caps, Prabodh Tirkey, captain. (Decidedly a very talented player). All part of the same Orissa team.
But are they the best players in those positions? Nobody will deny their talent, in fact Dilip Tirkey is on the world player list of FIH, yet we know he makes innumerable mistakes and he was central defender on that Orissa team. But he is the best defender in India, correct?
All the above are excellent tacklers except Ignace and any coach will want to match them one to one against any skilled player, at least in India. Just watch their videos, folks! So are the foreign players better and hence their success against them? Then how do you explain the PHL performance (Warriors)? Or was that a one-off game? But in all international tournaments, in our recent memory, we have had similar penalty corner stats, with the same culprits in defense! Is there a problem with the defensive structure and not with the players? Most modern hockey playing nations use a three defender format while South Korea uses four like in Football.
So are other teams continuously catching them out of position, so a one-on-one does not develop? Both coaches Joaquim and Harendra Singh alluded to the fact that right side forays destroyed our team; the left full back on both occasions was Xalxo. So are the selectors and coaches’ wrong by selecting this player? Right? But in their wisdom he is the best player in India in that position. And multiple groups of selectors and coaches, journalists and fans agree with the selection.
So it cannot be favoritism or regionalism. Are all of them wrong? But is tackling only the paramount criterion for selection of a defensive player? What about clearances, trapping, positioning and marking? Shiv Jagday (former USA coach and expat Indian, well respected and published in FIH circles) says that marking is the biggest problem with Indians. That is verified by consistent and perpetual reports in the foreign press about all Indian teams leaving gaps. Harbinder Singh pointed that as the cause of the first British goal in the final.
So are they good tacklers but are defective in all other defensive skills elements and so should not be on the team? Do you have any confidence that Indian hockey has the answers for these logical questions. Coach Bhaskaran alluded to “senior players should know the rules” and Coach Rajinder Singh Jr “senior players cannot afford to make the same mistakes.” Are all these statements by different observers pointing to a problem with the selection process?
Hence the need for Dr Ric Charlesworth, with impeccable, valuable knowledge and credentials to be handed over the job to answer these questions. It is naïve to think that these are the only points he needs to address and I shall allude to the rest of them in my next article.
But that makes the task only more onerous. In fact, I make a call for Dr Ric Charlesworth to have his own non-Indian advisory team and take on the revival of the hockey that we love.
(You can e-mail Deepak at:firstname.lastname@example.org)