As always, the national hockey championships have brought with it the perennial Catch-22. Ensure the presence of stars to draw crowds or give an opportunity to youngsters to prove their mettle and stake claim for a spot in the national squad.
This year, Hockey India has allowed the national team regulars to skip the premier domestic tournament and give them enough recovery time to prepare for a grueling summer.
The teams, of course, will have to give their consent. The companies pay the players’ salaries and the only thing they ask in return — participation in the hockey nationals. Naturally, they will feel let down.
But keeping the overall picture in mind, it is easy to understand why the coaches and Hockey India have taken this decision. In the period of four months — from May to August this year— the national team will be competing in three major tournaments: the World Cup (June), Commonwealth Games (July/August) and Asian Games in September.
India’s High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans and chief coach Terry Walsh have identified the Asian Games as their key tournament — a gold there would ensure a berth for the Rio Olympics in 2016. To achieve that, it is necessary to ensure the players are not overworked. One of the chief reasons for India’s dismal show at 2012 Olympics was that the players were jaded by the time they reached London after playing a slew of friendlies.
Already, they have been playing non-stop this year; first in the World League followed by the ongoing Hockey India League (HIL). Rest is essential.
The current core group of 33 players is not seen as adequate enough pull India through this physically taxing phase. Also the performances of Indian players in the HIL have left a lot to be desired.
It makes little sense scanning the same players again. By giving them rest during the nationals — though they will be at the national camp — the selectors and coaches will have the opportunity to look at new faces and thus expand the player pool.
The absence of national team players at the senior national championships indeed takes some sheen away from the tournament. This time, though, Hockey India are justified in their decision.
Mihir is a senior correspondent based in Mumbai