On Monday, at the Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) Bangalore centre, there will be an attempt to make things look normal. But even Hockey India and interim coach David John concede it will be anything but that.
After witnessing the departure of their fourth coach in as many years, the players will assemble on Monday morning for the selection trials for next month’s Asia Cup. And with Roelant Oltmans gone, there will be considerable pressure on the players as John looks to ring in major changes to the squad.
The selection committee will pick the squad for the continental championships, which will be held in Dhaka next month. Those who do not make the senior team are likely to be included in the developmental squad, comprising under-23 players, that will compete in the Australian league.
One of the biggest issues discussed while reviewing the team’s performance was the role of former captain Sardar Singh. John, who will be in charge of the team at the Asia Cup, hinted that Sardar might have to sacrifice his preferred position as centre-half for current skipper Manpreet Singh.
“This was discussed. Manpreet led the team in Europe and he was outstanding. It’s the best form he’s shown that I’ve seen since 2013,” John said. “There’s a role in our best 18 for Sardar. He is still a classy player and we need experience in our group.”
While Sardar’s place looks assured for now, strikers Ramandeep Singh, Talvinder Singh and Mandeep Singh are treading a fine line. John is keen to include more players from the junior World Cup squad, which Oltmans was reluctant to do.
Last month, the Australian overruled Oltmans and included six juniors in the team for the Europe tour. That team suffered twin defeats to Belgium but bounced back to record back-to-back wins against a full-strength Holland, who then went on to win the European Championships.
John said Oltmans’ policy of sticking to the same playing group did not get the desired results and hinted that it might have caused complacency within the team. “If you analyse over the last year, there’s a core group of 15 players that has stayed the same. There’s a change in goalkeeper because of injuries but the rest has been the same,” he said. “We have tried freshening things up by including the boys from the junior World Cup. But traditionally, the 15 players have played the most matches.”
According to a selector, apart from Malaysia, there is no other team from Asia that poses a serious threat to India, which gives them a chance to experiment. However, John acknowledged the sacking of the coach so close to the tournament might affect the team’s performance.
“A different coach can bring a different playing style and that may confuse the players initially. Because of that, the performances aren’t consistent. I am aware that we have had four coaches in five years and I am sure that can upset the group,” he said.