Former India men's hockey head coach Roelant Oltmans has blamed the lack of tactical awareness and a non-existent club culture for India's early exit in the ongoing edition of the FIH Men's World Cup.
India lost the crossover match to New Zealand and failed to make the quarter-finals after going down 4-5 in sudden death.
India's current head coach Graham Reid had also voiced concern about the lack of club culture after the Hockey India League (HIL) became defunct in 2017.
"There is no club culture in India, that is for sure. And the players need to continue playing games, that this team is lacking," Oltmans, who was at the helm of affairs of the Indian team from 2015 to 2017, told PTI in an interview.
"These Indians are fantastic hockey players, no doubt about that. But you need to know what to do at which moment of the game. If all of a sudden, you are 11 against 10, what are you going to do?" added the Dutchman, who also served as the High Performance Director of Indian hockey from 2013 to 2015.
India were unable to take advantage of the circumstances after New Zealand were reduced to 10 men in the crossover match.
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After New Zealand made it 3-3 in the fourth quarter, Nick Ross received a yellow card in the 53rd minute and was suspended for five minutes. New Zealand defended doggedly to take the match into penalty shootout and then sudden death.
"India had five minutes before the end of the match when a New Zealand player was out. What were India doing at such a moment? You need to play tactical games, execute them properly," Oltmans, who was India head coach during the 2016 Rio Olympics, said.
"The Germans scored two goals in three minutes (against England), that is the difference, that is something India still need to work on."
Oltmans was surprised that India did not have a mental-conditioning coach. The Dutchman said that a psychologist was with the team at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Centre in Bengaluru when he was at the helm.
"Absolutely, it (having a mental-conditioning coach) makes a difference. When I was the head coach prior to the (Rio) Olympics, I had a psychologist in my staff. It is more or less the same as having a mental-conditioning coach.
"For the physical part of the game, we have physical training, for tactical part of the game, we have tactical training, for skill training we have drag-flick trainers. But the mental aspect made a major difference and there we don't have a serious trainer. That is strange," said Oltmans.
He opined that captain Harmanpreet Singh shouldering too many responsibilities could have affected his performance in the World Cup. Harmanpreet struggled to score with his drag-flick, which is being blamed for India's early exit.
"In a team, you always know who your leaders are. Harmanpreet has been on the scene since the 2016 Junior World Cup and now we are talking about 2023. Over the years, he has shown that he is an important player," Oltmans said, explaining how Harmanpreet was given the leadership role.
"He (Harmanpreet) is leading the defence and he is the main penalty-corner taker. We want to give him so much responsibilities at the same time. I am sure he has the qualities to lead the team but having too many responsibilities can affect him, though I know he is a very calm and relaxed player in stressful situations."
Oltmans, who has also coached Pakistan, Malaysia and the Netherlands national teams, said that India must do more to find and groom talented players, an aspect which, he said, the country was lacking as compared to countries like Netherlands.
"You need to develop talent in every aspect of the game. Quite a few players from that junior World Cup-winning Indian side are in this senior World Cup but (that is) not enough.
"Players like Dipsan Tirkey, Harjeet Singh were there in that (junior) team. Where have they been; they are gone out of the system. I don't see them any longer.
"Talent grooming is an important part as you need to prepare the next generation. Of course, not everybody can be included in the national team. But we need to ensure that there is a continuous stream of talent."
The 68-year-old coach, however, warned other countries not to discount India for a 2024 Paris Olympics podium finish.
"They (India) were on the podium in Tokyo, why can't they be there (in Paris)? There is enough talent in this country. Make proper plans, execute them properly, use right people and you will be there."
He also welcomed the national federation's plan to revive Hockey India League (HIL).
"Absolutely, HIL will be really beneficial for Indian hockey if it comes back. Not only the senior national team players, the juniors will also benefit. In that period when the HIL was there (till 2017), India won the junior World Cup in 2016 (Lucknow)."
Oltmans is not too worried about fewer penalty-corner goals being scored in the last few years.
"Normally, PC conversion rate was about one in three and later one in four, that was alright. But, now, it is one in five or one in six, that is too low. We need to improve that again.
"If you are not scoring penalty-corner goals from your drag-flick, then you should change your mindset and see what can we do to score. We may see more goals in the next major tournament."
He said there is no harm in employing the old method of taking direct hits from PCs, rather than going for a drag-flick.
"We have seen that already, England scored from that (PC hit), even South Korea scored. So it can be drag-flick, hitting or variations, according to situation. In the end, there are only five defenders, including the goalkeeper. If you want, you can put 10 attackers. So we can think about how we can score 50 per cent of penalty corners.
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