Tuesday, October 15, 2013

2014 World Cup will be Terry Walsh’s litmus test

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Another Australian is all set to take over as coach of the Indian men’s hockey team after the exit of Michael Nobbs. Terry Walsh will have his hands full given the slew of big-ticket events lined up over the next twelve months.

The 59-year-old Australian has been given the go-ahead by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the ball is now in the Sports Ministry’s court. Clearly, Walsh’s appointment is bit hard to swallow in the wake of the national team dishing out a pugnacious performance at the 9th Asia Cup in Ipoh, where India capped off a runners-up finish under ‘caretaker’ coach Roelant Oltmans, who is Hockey India’s High Performance Manager.

One is not sure what went behind the scenes – did Hockey India toy with the idea of having Oltmans as head coach of the men’s team or was the high-profile Dutch coach keen to assume extra responsibility besides his HPM role?

Hockey fans thought the national team jelled as a unit with Oltmans at the helm in Ipoh, and persisting with him would have been a forward-looking move, not that appointing Terry Walsh is a backward move by any stretch of imagination.

A prolific striker of the seventies and eighties, Terry Walsh has donned the Australian jersey with pride and passion – he was part of the silver-winning Kookaburras at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and emerged as the leading goal-scorer in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

His CV speaks volumes about his pedigree – he made 175 international appearances and hung up his hockey stick after playing a part in Australia winning the 1986 World Cup in London – in fact, he scored one of the two goals in the final against Germany.

His coaching credentials are as good as his playing career. He coached the Kookaburras from 1997-2000 – guiding them garner a bronze at the Sydney Olympics. The Western Australian shepherded the Netherlands to a silver-medal effort at the 2004 Athens Olympics as well as helping them bag a silver medal at the 2004 Champions Trophy.

He also had a three-year coaching stint with the Malaysian team in the early nineties (1990-93). Walsh last served as the technical director of USA hockey before stepping down from that role last year.

Quite obviously, Walsh is a much bigger fish to net for SAI or Hockey India than it probably was to rope in Michael Nobbs. Nobbs had received a monthly salary of $11000 (AUS) (approximately Rs 75 lakh), but it learnt that Walsh is asking for close to $15,000 per month besides other benefits to take up the job.

Getting into the brass-tacks, it remains to be seen how much time Terry Walsh has on hand to prepare the Indian team for our next international assignment – 3rd Asian Champions Trophy – which is barely two weeks away (to be held in Japan from November 2).

The Hockey World Final League slated to be held in January will be Walsh’s next big challenge – his litmus test will be the 2014 World Cup to be held in the Hague, the Netherlands in May-June.

Strictly speaking, even if the Sports Ministry gives its green signal to SAI’s recommendation for Walsh’s appointment, he will hardly have time to settle down with the boys for the 3rd Asian Champions Trophy. Or will it be a case of Oltmans taking charge of the national team as ‘caretaker’ coach for the 3rd Asian Champions Trophy if Walsh is not able to link up with the side in time for that tourney?

The Aussie will have practically six months or little less of that to prepare the national team for the 2014 World Cup – the moot question is the six months time adequate enough for him to deliver? Only time will tell.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Focusing on Junior World Cup, says India's talented hockey forward Ramandeep Singh

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Ramandeep Singh was very much an unknown commodity going into the 9th Asia Cup men’s hockey tournament in Ipoh. But he did more than enough with his hockey stick at the continental event that saw India finish runners-up after losing narrowly to Korea.

The exploits of the fleet-footed Indian striker has ensured that his name is on most hockey fans’ lips – in hockey circles he is being seen as the best answer to Indian forwardline's concerns.

The 20-year-old who hails from Meeka village, about 30 kms from Amritsar, is bubbling with excitement over his performance in Ipoh. “I was really happy to be picked in the side and was keen to make my opportunities count. Nothing gives me more joy than contribute to a team’s win and I’m chuffed to help my side fare well in the Asia Cup. It’s unfortunate that we had to lose the final to Korea. Umpiring in the final left a lot to be desired, or else we would have won the Asia Cup,” he says in an exclusive interview.

A student of Spring Dale School, Ramandeep honed his hockey skills at the Amritsar-based Maharaja Ranjit Singh Academy when he was in sixth standard in 2004. He learnt the nuances of the game under the tutelage of Olympian Balwinder Singh Shammi.

The razor-sharp forward was part of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Academy till in 2010. “I learnt a lot at the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Academy under Olympian Balwinder Singh Shammi – another coach by the same name Balwinder Singh also taught me the rudiments of the game. I trained at the academy till the time I passed out of 10+2,” he recalls.

Son of a farmer, Ramandeep did not really need to inject passion for hockey in him as it ran in his family. His elder brother Harmandeep Singh is also a hockey player and is employed with the Indian Overseas Bank, Madras. “It helps when you have others in the family play the sport. Seven of my cousins from my village are training at the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Academy,” he says.

Ramandeep, who turned out for Japyee Punjab Warriors in the inaugural Hero Hockey India League, is now focusing on the national camp in preparation for the 2014 Junior World Cup to be held in New Delhi this December. “We are going to train hard at the camp and fine-tune our preparations for the 2014 Junior World Cup. Winning the 3rd Sultan of Johor Cup has given us a lot of confidence. Doing well in a marquee event in our backyard is really important and we will do whatever we can to corner glory,” he exudes hope.

The talented hitman, who is employed with Punjab and Sind Bank, has fond memories of his senior international debut in the 9th Asia Cup. “Well, a debut game is special for any player and I’m no exception. The fact that I scored on my debut against Oman in the 17th minute of play was an icing on the cake for me. Hockey India also gave me a cash reward of Rs 1 lakh for scoring on my senior international debut,” he gushes.

Ramanadeep believes India stands a bright chance of winning the 2014 Junior World Cup. “Our team led by Manpreet Singh is very talented – Manpreet is a great team player and takes everyone into confidence – more importantly he leads from the front. Our defence is really strong – the good thing is that not just our fullbacks, our forwards and midfielders help out our defence, which is a big plus for us,” he says.

The striker, who wears a mild stubble, however, admits the road to title glory won’t be a smooth one. “We have a strong team, but it will count for nothing if we can’t deliver on any given day. Australia, Germany and the Netherlands are formidable sides and we need to do our homework if we are to counter them in the the 2014 Junior World Cup. Our performance in the 3rd Sultan of Johor Cup augurs well for us,” the demure youngster fires a parting shot.

Picture Courtesy: Daily Mail

Monday, October 7, 2013

Ankle-injury-plagued Indian hockey striker Gurwinder Chandi to visit England for advanced treatment

Injuries are part and parcel of a sportsman’s life, but things can get really frustrating when an injury takes much longer to heal than initially expected.

Indian men’s hockey team striker Gurwinder Singh Chandi is experiencing the same after being out of competitive action for more than eight months, following an ankle injury during the inaugural Hero Hockey India League (HIL) in January-February this year.

The 20-year-old forward has been undergoing rehab treatment in at New Delhi’s Ganga Ram hospital, but hasn’t fully recovered from the ankle injury and is taking a trip to England for advanced treatment. “I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to sit out of action for eight months. It’s difficult to describe what I’m going through. I have been going through my rehab routine in New Delhi, but will now be proceeding to England for advanced treatment,” he says in an informat chat.

The nippy striker is expected to leave for England later this month. “I will be leaving for England in the third week of October once my visa formalities are done,” he informs.

The ONGC employee hopes to have a successful rehab session in England. “My uncle stays in England and he is facilitating my appointment with the said doctor, who said to be an ankle specialist for sports,
especially football. According to the doctor, the injury I’m battling down is a rarity for a hockey player. I really hope the session in England will sort out my injury woes sooner than later,” he harbours hope.

Chandi is sanguine about an early return from England. ‘Look, if I’m advised to go for a rehab, it will be for around twenty-five days. But if a surgery is required I will be out of action for three months,” he apprises.

Chandi, who turned out in the famous green jersey for the Sardar Singh-led Delhi Waveriders during the HIL, where his team subsequently finished runners-up, has been sorely missed in the Indian forward line in recent times.

Indian team took part in four tournaments – the Hockey World League Round 2 event in New Delhi last February, the 22nd Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh last March and the Hockey World League Round 2 event in Rotterdam last June and the 9th Asia Cup sans the services of Gurwinder Singh Chandi.

The way things are going, the ace striker, who has played more than hundred internationals for India, will surely miss India’s next international assignment – 3rd Asian Champions Trophy beginning in Japan from November 1.

To put things realistically, Chandi can only hope to be in action in the second Hero Hockey India League beginning January 23. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Everything depends on whether a rehab would be enough for my recovery or whether a surgery will be needed. I’m in touch with Delhi Waveriders and they have been really supportive,” he signs off.

Indian hockey fans will hope that Chandi gets on the pitch and starts rattling the opposition cage with aplomb.

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Picture: Courtesy: www.supersport.com

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Interview: Indian players always play under extra pressure, says former coach Jose Brasa

The manner in which he took over from Joaquim Carvalho and lifted the side’s fortunes despite all the official odds stacked against him, drew copious praise from many quarters.

The 62-year-old shepherded the national side to a commendable bronze medal-winning effort at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangdong, China as well as a silver medal-winning effort at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

Brasa has also served as coach of the Ukraine women’s hockey team coach besides being part of the now-defunct World Series Hockey, where he sat in the coach chair of the Chennai Cheetahs side.

The vastly experienced coach spoke on various issues concerning Indian hockey in an exclusive interview to Sportskeeda.


Q. Michael Nobbs took over as India coach in June 2011 after Hockey India did not renew your contract despite the country bagging a bronze at the 2010 Asian Games. What are your thoughts on the Australian’s stint as India coach?

My first feeling is why always is the coach fired and held responsible for the team’s performance? I reckon the biggest difference between Nobbs and me was the selection criteria - the players he likes to select for the national team is completely different from the players I picked. I prefer to choose creative players. Another difference between Nobbs and me is the freedom I gave to the system of play to enable Indian players develop the Indian style of playing. Creativity is a part of the Indian personality, it is inside Indian idiosyncrasy, and positive parts of the Indian idiosyncrasy shall be maximized when playing.

Q. What ails Indian hockey? Europeans teams are rapidly improving – even teams like Belgium and Ireland have shown that they can match the best in the business. Australia is also improving all the time. Where do you think India is lagging behind in terms of tactics?

It is true that these nations have improved a lot after working under the same coach – coaches in these nations have the freedom to hammer out their plan of action and develop the team sans any interference from the hockey board. The coaches in these countries have the leeway to choose their support staff; assume full control of the situation, even when it came to selection of players, as well as the captain – that way a coach is in a better position to deliver.

These nations have been able to create a conducive environment where the players have the confidence to perform as well as learn and improve. The hockey boards of these nations give a lot of confidence to the coach, and that is the only way to achieve success.

In India, hockey players are under a lot of pressure once they are called to play for the national team. Hockey in India has a rich history (winning eight Olympic gold medals is a phenomenal achievement). Players come into the national team with the hope of regaining the country’s past glory, and everybody know how important hockey is in India, Hockey is the national sport in India. This is an extra pressure on Indian players – something that does not exist in other countries. Neither Hockey India nor SAI creates an environment where players can play without any pressure of being dropped from the side.

I don’t think it’s a problem of tactics; it all about keeping an ancestral system alive, like the selectors, the team being captain chosen by the board, Hockey India and SAI singling out players, when they speak their mind on issues concerning the sport.

Q. Generally speaking, Asian teams are declining. What do you think could be the reasons for that?

Asian teams are unable to realize their potential owing to lack of good artificial pitches. Good players are more brilliant in good surfaces. Having better surfaces can have more advantages, and the skillful players can dish out even better performances. Asia has the world’s most skillful hockey players (from India and Pakistan). Therefore, hockey authorities in India and Pakistan must make an effort to lay good artificial surfaces.

Q. In India, most hockey surfaces are constructed from polypropylene fiber. Do you think that there is a need to opt for a nylon 6.6 fiber surface?

Nylon 6.6 fiber is the world’s best artificial hockey surface. Nylon 6.6 fiber is five to seven times more expensive than polypropilene fiber. Artificial pitches made from polypropilene fiber are very bumpy, where the ball bounces a lot. This surface is good for players who indulge in more physical play and less skill.

In India, most of the pitches are made from polypropylene. The improvement of hockey in India is being harmed by the polypropylene surface. If the surface of the Indian stadiums had been nylon 6.6, then the results of the India team had been much better.

Q. How much pressure a foreign coach has to take whenever he is appointed as India coach?

The pressure for a foreigner taking over as India coach is very high. Foreign coaches are confronted with unbecoming behavior. The system of putting pressure and hitting back at coaches for speaking their mind is obsolete. Nowadays cooperation and teamwork are the need of the hour.

Q. The Sports Authority of India and Hockey India are two entities involved in the promotion of hockey in the country. Do you think that there is adequate coordination between them?

I did not see any good coordination between both bodies. During my stint as India coach SAI was interfering rudely many times on specific hockey decisions that was not their business. I can cite one example, SAI was asking me for full reports of each player (day-by-day, session-by-session), with the only intention of wasting time of the foreign coach, and putting me under more pressure. SAI should control the budget and Hockey India should control the sport, as it happens in almost all other countries.

Indian hockey coach Jose Brasa looks on

Q. Looking back at your coaching stint in India – you took charge in 2009 and stayed till the end of 2010 – were you surprised that your contract was not renewed despite the fact that India won a bronze at the 2010 Asiad in Guangzhou beating the four-time champions Korea in the 3rd place play-off tie.

I knew that it was difficult to see Hockey India and SAI renew my contract as I had criticized them on many occasions – I had also flayed their system of treating the players as well as the coach. So it did not came as a surprise when they did not renew my contract. I was hopeful that the good results in the 2010 Commonwealth Games and Asian Games could tilt the scales in my favour, but unfortunately in India it does not happen that way.

Q. A lot of youngsters were tried out during Nobbs’ stint as India coach. The likes of Shivendra Singh and Tushar Khandker are considered unwelcome to the national team. Even someone like Gurbaj Singh is out of the side since the 2012 Olympics. Do you think employing the 'all young mantra' is the right strategy?

I do not think that overlooking these players was the right strategy. It was not a sports decision, more a political one. As far as I know, the axing of three players was a joint decision of Hockey India and Nobbs for disciplinary reasons. And I believe Sarvanjit Singh was also meted the same treatment.

These disciplinary reasons are the kind of interferences that should not happen, something that does not happen in other countries. Both SAI and Hockey India put extra pressure on players and create a bad atmosphere where players cannot perform. During my time as India coach Hockey India wielded the axe on some players like Arjun Halappa, Prabhjot Singh, Adrian D`Souza against my wishes due to disciplinary reasons.

Q. Drag-flicker Sandeep Singh had a poor tournament in the Hockey World League Round 3 event in Rotterdam. Do you think his international career is over?

I do not think that Sandeep Singh is finished. We do not know the reasons or reasons of his performance. Maybe his poor performance in Rotterdam was due to lack of confidence, or other reasons which can be solved. It is an unquestionable fact is that Sandeep Singh is the world’s best drag-flicker.

Q. How do you assess Sardar Singh’s captaincy?

I believe Sardar is now the best captain India can have. He is an outstanding player, one of the best players in the world if not the best just now. He is a very committed player, with a positive attitude and leads by example.

Q. As coach of the Indian team, it is said that you wanted Prabhjot Singh as the captain and it was alleged that you cold-shouldered captain Rajpal Singh – both of whom are out of the team.

That captaincy incident happened just one week before the 2010 Delhi World Cup. It was not just me who wanted Prabhjot as captain, the whole team decided, voted and wanted him as captain. All players and staff nominated Prabhjot as captain before Hockey India came from outside the team like a bull in a china shop, and named Rajpal as captain. The players tried to convince Hockey India but failed to prevent them from taking that dictatorial decision.

Hockey India broke the internal cohesion of the team. As the team's coach I knew the importance of our  internal strength, we had been working on it for months, and Hockey India’s a stupid decision destroyed our months of hard work in seconds, and destroyed too, the hope of achieving an outstanding result.

Q. Who are the players you think have really improved during your stint as India coach?

Indian players are skillful in general and it is difficult to improve them in abilities. You should ask this question to the players who donned the national colours under me, it is for them to say if they like me as coach of the Indian team or not, and whether they have learned something important from me.

Many players were very happy having me as coach. Sardar Singh, Sandeep Singh, Prabhjot Singh,Vikram Pillay, DhananjayMahadik, Tushar Khandekar, Adrian D`Souza, Shivendra Singh, Sarvanjit Singh,Gurbaj Singh, Rajpal Singh, Arjun Halappa, VS Vinaya, PR Sreejesh, Dharamvir Singh, Danish Mujtaba, SV Sunil, Gurwinder Singh Chandi, Ravi Singh, Ravipal Singh, VR Raghunath ….. I believe the most of them. (some more are missed)

Q. Are you seeing any improvement in our penalty corner conversations after you left as India coach?

Now with V Raghunath and Rupinder Pal Singh India have more number of drag-flickers, which means more variations. Anyway India’s short corner conversions hasn’t been that great in top competitions over the last few years. But for me the best penalty corner solution in India was Sandeep Singh – my job was to get him to have the same performance he used to have during trainings.

Q. The fitness of the Indian team has really improved over the years. A big plus for the team.

I agree that the physical fitness of the Indian team has improved, and it has worked well for the team, but it is necessary to keep improving as the Indians are still lagging behind the physical fitness of Australians or Europeans.

Q. Would consider coaching India again if you are offered that job again?

Yes, of course. The experience of coaching such a talent bunch was wonderful, and I would like to continue my friendship with the players. But I will like to have a different contract having more control of the situation to avoid unwanted interferences that can be detrimental to the team.

I believe the Indian players like me as coach, but I’m not sure whether SAI or Hockey India officials are keen to have him in the coach seat. If Hockey India calls me I will go immediately.

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Picture: Courtesy Times of India