Indian hockey team’s coach Paul van Ass must have been relieved and would be optimistic about team India’s future, after they made a terrific comeback in the recently concluded Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh. When a team defeats world champions Australia and later finishes third after a disastrous start to a tournament, including a defeat to lower-ranked Malaysia, it shows that the team has the talent and skills to be a top side.
The Indian team, with eyes on the next year’s Rio Olympics, has some important issues to ponder upon, the foremost being the defence, which was pierced with relative ease in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. Van Ass said, “Defence is a total team performance, not just the defenders. We need to get our positions right. We have to work on our defence under pressure.”
Roelant Oltmans, India’s high performance director agreed with his compatriot, “As they say, attack is the first line of defence. We are not quick to react when there is a turnover of possession. By the time we manage to read the opposition’s move, they are already in dangerous positions inside our box.”
This team, however, notwithstanding the frequent lapses in concentration, has also shown signs of intent, with inspiration coming from goalkeeper PR Sreejesh who has been the shining light behind the line of defence, pulling out some brilliant saves during the tournament, and being instrumental in India’s victory over South Korea in the penalty shootout.
And Nikkin Thimmaiah has been a revelation, whose hat trick helped India stun the world champions Australia 4-2 in the Cup, and later whose strike against South Korea kept India in the hunt for a bronze.
Captain Sardar Singh was quite impressed with their performances. “Though we came under pressure after disappointing results in the first few matches, we maintained the same target to give the best in every match and our boys did the same. Sreejesh and Nikkin played brilliantly and they have raised their levels in the tournament,” said the midfielder.
The players will report for the camp in New Delhi that will begin from April 22. India are likely to play a test series in May; Hockey India is still finalizing an opponent for the same. This would be a preparation for the World League semifinals in Belgium in June.