The victory at Kuantan, Malaysia, where India won the Asian Champions trophy, underlines the revival of Indian hockey on the world stage. It has been a roller-coaster ride for Indian hockey in the last few years, but this Roelant Oltmans-coached team is different and has shown some consistency. There is an improved performance in major international tournaments much to the delight of the connoisseurs of the game. The Dutch coach has brought a new belief in the team. In the past, the team succumbed to last-minute goals but that seems to have been addressed by the coach. He has built fine team ethics and there is more discipline and purpose now. In the new modern game where everyone comes back to help the defence, there has been effective rolling substitution. The game has become fast and furious.
It is played at a very high intensity. India were not able to close out matches in the past. The short (penalty) corner defence was suspect, while the conversion rate of short corners and conceding last-minute goals were a problem. Oltmans, to a great extent, has remedied this huge problem. He has made a huge difference. The results are also encouraging of late, though it could have been a much better performance at Rio Olympics where they suffered a 3-1 loss at the hands of Belgium in the quarterfinals. But under Oltmans, India were the runners-up in last year’s Champions Trophy at London, won the Asian Games gold and now have become champions at the Asian Championship Trophy where they beat arch-rivals Pakistan twice in the tournament, including in the final. Hockey India has rightly retained Oltmans till the 2020 Olympics. The veteran coach is the best person to guide India in the next few years. The 62-year-old Dutchman has familiarised himself with how the sport is being governed in the country as he has studied the Indian system well.
India have the skills in abundance. But that is not enough to be the best in the world. They need to develop good and reliable habits. That they have to reproduce under pressure is what Oltmans has been able to achieve with the Indian team. Indians, in the past, trained for six hours a day. That formula never worked for India in the modern game. It needed a totally different training system if the team had to succeed in international tournaments. Oltmans has brought in the right environment. The training has been done at a high intensity level. It is when the speed and skills are tested to the full. There seems to be new bonhomie in the team. Senior players like the mercurial Sardar Singh, goalkeeper PR Sreejesh and penalty corner specialist Rupinderpal Singh have been the architects of the team’s resurgence. Oltmans has played a huge role in bringing the team together. It is now for him to carry the team forward. Playing good and consistent hockey on the world stage is the biggest challenge for the Indian team.