Leading Great Britain twice, allowed them to draw. Opened scoring against Australia, lost 3-1. Barely managed to beat Japan 4-3. Lost to scrappy Malaysia 1-0. The only team they had the hang of was New Zealand, beating them 3-0 during pool stage and 4-0 for the bronze. That’s India’s story of hits and misses in the 26th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, which concluded in Ipoh on Friday.

A podium finish sounds good but appears a consolation upon breaking India’s performance into bullet points. That’s when you decipher what made the difference between a gold, silver and bronze.

The so-near-yet-so-far story turned into an ache when beating Malaysia became a tough ask. As pressure mounted, India’s performance dropped; and a place in the final slipped out of hand.


India began the tournament well. A 2-2 draw against the Britons, followed by a win over the Black Sticks. Things looked good, until Australia happened. After ticking most boxes and taking lead over the Kookaburras, the sting from Indian sticks went missing. The Aussies
sniffed that, wrestled themselves back and left India to lick their wounds.

Frustration went through the roof against Malaysia. Needing to win by a two-goal margin to qualify for the final, India could score none. And Oltmans made the statement of the tournament.

“I am sure if Germany would have played today (against Malaysia), they would have scored two or maybe three goals. And India doesn’t do that. That is still the difference (between us and) top sides in the world. That’s where we have to work. We can play fantastic hockey. We have
seen it, for instance, in the first half against Australia, in the last quarter against Japan. I think quite a good game we played against New Zeland and Great Britain. But the moment real pressure is there, then you have to show it,” the coach said.


Does the Indian team crack under pressure? Otlmans’ answer to that was “yes, that’s correct.” But what can set the cat amongst the pigeons is that he is closely eyeing non-performance of two players, names undisclosed.

“A couple of players are not there yet, to be able to perform up to our expectations when tense games are there,” Oltmans said without batting any eyelid. Seniors SV Sunil, Rupinder Pal Singh, Akashdeep Singh and Manpreet Singh didn’t have much to write home about from this tournament. Sardar Singh began well but fizzled away in the final stages.

Sunil and Rupinder earned some consolation scoring in the bronze-medal playoff with New Zealand but didn’t deliver in most crunch moments. Sunil in particular had a tournament to forget, as the right winger’s speed and control deserted him, leaving the 2017 Asian Hockey Player of the Year appear a shadow of himself.

Talwinder Singh also needed a strong tournament, but had just one goal to show, which makes his participation doubtful for the Hockey World League semifinals in London.


India fielded three debutants in the tournament - Gurinder Singh, Manpreet Singh Jr and Sumit. But it will be wrong to judge them on their maiden international appearance. The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup has historically thrown up young stars like Harmanpreet Singh, who made
his debut here last year and has grown leaps and bounds.

On a scale of 1 to 10, Sumit scored the most points among the three and should get a longer run at the senior level. His versatility to fit in multiple positions makes him a valuable asset to the team.


India’s defensive structure, despite losing star goalkeeper PR Sreejesh to injury in the middle of the tournament, stood out as the biggest takeaway for the Indian think-tank.

In the bronze-medal match, New Zealand couldn’t earn even a single penalty corner and had just one real shot at the Indian post. Akash Chikte did his best to fill Sreejesh’s big boots and will take it as a big step in his growing career.

Rupinder may not have had a good event with his dragflicks, but he played the role of a senior in India’s defence to perfection - guiding Harmanpreet, Surender Kumar, Pardeep Mor and Gurinder in turning India’s post into a fortress.


Tournament’s joint top-scorer Mandeep Singh stood out in the India’s attack, though he would want to be more consistent in pressure games.

“If we look at all the statistics, then almost in every match we have had by far more circle penetrations than our opponents. We created a lot of goal-scoring opportunities, but the way we finished is not good enough yet. That is something we have to work hard on, (building)
towards major tournaments (Asia Cup and Hockey World League Finals) later this year,” Oltmans admitted.

“The information we take to the last two tournaments in the year goes in my backpack, my brain, my computer and with my assistants. Together we are going to work it out,” he promised.