Graham Reid talks about the varying levels of greatness. He was an integral part of Ric Charlesworth’s coaching staff that spurred Australia to dizzying heights in international hockey. “Seeking greatness was the motto of our team back then,” he says. “Now, we’ve changed it to hunting greatness.”
It’s tempting to conclude that Reid is among the luckiest man to take over as the chief coach of the world’s No. 1 side; a team that boasts of some of the best players. But taking over a team at the top isn’t necessarily a smooth ride, especially when you’re replacing a legend like Charlesworth. And Reid would vouch for it.
Forever under Charlesworth’s shadow, Reid knows he has big shoes to fill. Like Cinderella, Reid did get an opportunity to try them on for size — and to find that they fitted — before Charlesworth vacated the post. Reid was experimented as the chief coach during the 2012 Champions Trophy, where he guided the Kookaburras to their sixth straight title.
It was a glimpse into the future for 1992 Olympics silver medallist. Post London Games, Charlesworth had made his intentions clear that he won’t stay beyond the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. And to ensure Reid isn’t thrown into the deep end just like that, Hockey Australia and Charlesworth decided to take a calculated risk, which luckily for them did not backfire.
But then, there’s very few things Charlesworth does that goes wrong. Understandably, the 50-year-old Reid is under no illusions to the task that awaits him. Under Charlesworth, Australia had reached the level of greatness that very few international teams can boast of. Barring the Olympic gold, they extended their dominance over every major tournament. The team and the players too had reached the level of form and fitness that could be matched by few teams.
Reid attributes several reasons for Australia’s extended domination in world hockey: flexibility of positions, use of interchange, width and depth of the squad. “But there are two main reasons. One is the development of our Kookaburra culture of seeking greatness. And the other is a competitive uncomfortableness for everyone involved in the programme. These have all contributed to our success,” he says.
Change to the way things are done is inevitable, says Reid. But the process will be gradual. “You don’t throw the baby out with the bath water or make radical changes for change sake. But it is very dangerous to keep doing the same things and expect the same results,” he says.
He hasn’t made a bad start. Prior to him being officially appointed as Australia’s coach, Reid and Paul Gaudoin, who is now the senior assistant coach, successfully defended the Commonwealth Games gold. But in the process of defending the title, a few tough decisions had to be taken. Jamie Dwyer, Australia’s most-capped and celebrated player, was excluded from the scheme of things. The five-time world player of the year was axed from CWG squad as they started to look forward to Rio.
Reid has still kept the doors open for the former skipper, who is also recuperating from injury, but has said it will be a tough road back for Dwyer. Other seniors like Mark Knowles, Kieran Govers, Matthew Swann and Joel Carroll too are out injured from Australia’s Champions Trophy squad. Reid smiles when asked if phasing out the seniors is the trickiest challenge he faces.
“We have a very clear plan for Rio, which includes blooding young players from this tournament. It’s happening at a slow pace as youngsters take some time to tune in,” he says. Australia’s test series defeat to India and a below par beginning in the Champions Trophy has left many wondering whether their dominance is on the wane. They tamely surrendered to England in their first match and followed it up by giving up a 3-0 lead against Belgium to be held 4-4. When was the last time Australia let go off a 3-0 lead, you wonder.
Never, perhaps. But these very un-Australian performances hardly worry Reid. “We haven’t experienced losing for quite some time. So it’s good to have a few such days — it teaches you more than winning. But then, it’s natural. We have been the best, so everyone is out to get us. That’s the challenge I relish,” he says.
Reid knows. As Australia enter a new era under him, his side have gone from being the hunters to the hunted.
Tuesday’s matches: Argentina vs Germany :12:00; England vs Belgium: 14:00; Australia vs Pakistan: 17:30; Netherlands vs India: 19:30. (Live on Ten Sports)
For hosts, playing to the gallery has its pitfalls
Bhubaneswar: Home crowd advantage is a factor teams yearn for, especially in big tournaments. But playing the best in front of a passionate crowd can have its own set of drawbacks. At least Sardar Singh feels so. “The crowd was overenthusiastic and the players got carried away,” he said after India’s 4-2 defeat against Argentina on Sunday.
The India captain may have a point. Indian players have a tendency of getting carried away too easily. Against the World Cup bronze medallists, they played to the gallery by over-running with the ball and trying to force the issue. Every India surge forward was met with a deafening roar by the 7,000-odd inside the stadium.
The players seemed to have lost focus — and team its shape — in an attempt to please them, which resulted in the team conceding soft goals against Argentina. VR Raghunath, however, feels otherwise.
“The crowd spurs us on. It’s not a disadvantage, at least for me. We are used to playing in front of bigger crowds at the World Cups and Olympics. They’ve been great here. I don’t think we got carried away,” Raghunath said.
The drag-flicker said the team had ‘peaceful’ talks over the things that went wrong against Argentina. Defence, he acknowledged, had been disappointing thus far. And against a strong Dutch attack, Raghunath & Co. will be put to test once again on Tuesday.
“It’s an area where we’ve been good in the last year-and-a-half. So it is disappointing that we’ve conceded goals which we shouldn’t have,” he said. “But we have spoken about it and tried to rectify it.”
Defence isn’t India’s only concern. The team has been below par in all departments, especially in converting field goal opportunities and winning penalty corners.
The deficiency in these departments makes India’s task against Holland tougher. But the Dutch aren’t complacent. “They’re a very good side. And they have the crowd behind them,” Holland captain Robert van der Horst said. Funnily enough, his Indian counterpart doesn’t seem to be feeling the same way.