The great coach scapegoat

Neither administration nor players are held to account for hockey team’s failures.

Written by Shivani Naik | Updated: May 4, 2018 12:33:14 am
The great coach scapegoat Harendra Singh has replaced Sjoerd Marijne as the new coach of the Indian men’s hockey team (Source: Hockey India)

Indian hockey, or more specifically the national sport’s strongman, Narinder Batra, seems to change coaches in quite the hurry. Just never ask him the score from the last time his boys played. More accurately, the last time they lost. But it’s never their fault. It’s always the coach.

We used to be seduced by the idea that foreigners knew something that Indians didn’t. It was just a phase. Now, we rule the hockey world — in the boardrooms, not on the turf. Batra is the world hockey chief. So, naturally, we don’t need those foreigners with their fitness whips and straight-talking anymore. But we were wooed once by the taskmasters as we sagged in our standards.They never delivered, just took back some solid dough.

Ric Charlesworth, Jose Brasa, Michael Nobbs, Paul van Ass, Terry Walsh, Roelant Oltmans or the latest discard, Sjoerd Marijne, who got replaced by an Indian coach. There were a dozen before them — some imported. It does take time, you know, to realise none of them spoke Hindi, the language that can push our boys to conquer the world. It can take a few losses at the Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games — the big stages — where it dawns on us that the one man who’s supposed to yell instructions is not sending out a barrage of affectionate Hindi expletives.
Anyway, they were too defensive — those cynical Europeans — they cracked the whip on our flair. They just wouldn’t let us express ourselves. Our dazzling dribbles traded for pedantic geometry — called the basics. It wasn’t India’s miserable trapping, it was them. Them, not staying true to our eight Olympic gold medals. The grass on the other side wasn’t just green, it was sometimes blue turf.

That Aussie bloke Nobbs — he had seemed keen to learn how to coach us. To give us our space and time to keep running circles around nothing in particular and pay obeisance to our stickwork. But imagine the horror — he simply wouldn’t get the boys to play to a plan where we finished last at London. Or, just motivate them to play. Because, of course, at the Olympics, you need to be motivated by a coach. So we let it be known to those who paid his salary that we wanted him to go.

Oltmans stayed coy and suitably quiet. He put in place a system even. But the Olympic gold never magically happened. So we let it be known, again, to those who paid his salary that we wanted him gone.

Brasa — we really liked him. Even the boys, perhaps the only bunch in their 20s in the world who can hire and fire bosses, loved him. After the regulation revolt, of course. He persisted, we relented. But how dare Indians lose to Malaysia, while Pakistan goes onto win gold at the 2010 Asiad? What an affront to go down to New Zealand and Canada. And how utterly shameful that Pakistan dared to play out a draw with the Indians last month with Oltmans in the hut. Because, of course, while we were fine-tuning our coaching group, others were sitting twiddling their thumbs.

It is, of course, perfect that our women’s team is used as a test run for coaches to earn the men’s team spot. It doesn’t matter that the score last heard was 6-0. The new coach speaks and can listen to our boys in their chosen tongue. It doesn’t matter that he’s been appointed two years too early to last till the Olympics. A talented man, scholarly too and meticulous. Fingers crossed that Harendra Singh is still around till Tokyo.

For a casual bystander, there’s the latest superhero movie in the cinemas to get away from this. To appropriate Black Widow’s memorable line to Loki, hockey coaches change all the time. We tend not to weep over them. We are Indian.

shivani.naik@expressindia.com

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