Over the next three days, beginning Thursday, as Hockey India (HI) officials meet in New Delhi to dissect India’s disappointing performance at the World Cup, chief coach Terry Walsh said the team has improved a lot but acknowledged there are many areas of concerns that need to be addressed. Excerpts from an interview:
Is India’s ninth-place finish a fair reflection of where the team stands in world hockey?
I think we actually stand higher than that. India is between 4-7, realistically speaking. We need to find ways to be there consistently by setting up programmes that bring out the best in the team. My belief is that the team’s performance improved as the tournament went on. People don’t realise we had 10 under-21 guys in the team. We’ve got a very young and inexperienced team.
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Are there any positives to build on for the Commonwealth Games?
We were persistent on the pitch. The team wasn’t giving up or finding it impossible to play. They were fighting right till the end.
At the camp we spent a lot of time working on the physical and technical part of the game and we have seen big improvements. I haven’t seen India out-done physically by any of the teams in this World Cup. That was really pleasing. The players too grew in self belief as the tournament wore on. They feel very confident about their physique and know they can grow even more. We’re still a long way away but it’s slowly happening.
But there were quite a few shortcomings too.
We played with fear. We were frightened during several parts of the tournament. The first half against Belgium in our opening match was the most obvious. That was because of the tournament setting. The second time that it was obvious was during the first half against Australia. However, I was glad that in both games we regrouped and played quite soundly and were able to create some chances.
The overwhelming belief is that if it wasn’t for Sreejesh, the team would’ve finished at the bottom…
There’s absolutely no question that there are areas of concern. Penalty corners, winning and converting, is really a huge issue. But at the World Cup, nobody examined why so many teams were missing so many corners. Two out of the four corners Holland got in the final didn’t even get to the top of the circle. The balls were changed barely a couple of weeks before the World Cup.
We got just two days to practice with them and some of the teams didn’t even have that opportunity. These are kookaburra balls but they’re different; more brittle and a fraction heavier. Hence injection and trapping was a problem. It was an area we were ill-prepared for. It’s not an excuse. Interestingly, Australia had the balls a month before and that’s significant.
The team was seen to be quite wasteful in the attacking third as well.
Inability to take shots on goal is another major concern. We need to be in good positions inside the circle. It’s not a matter of not knowing, it’s a matter of executing. We are slowly getting better but it’s difficult under those stressful conditions.