The Indian hockey team may have climbed up to No.6 in the world rankings but its ability to cope with pressure remains odd, feels coach Roelant Oltmans.
Not only do they come under pressure in the closing stages of a match, during the past week, India were also found to crumble when challenged with the demand of a two-goal victory over a lower-ranked opponent during the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tournament.
“We can play fantastic hockey and we have shown that often, but you need to prove your ability when there is real pressure,” says Oltmans.
In the last league match against Malaysia, they required a two-goal victory that would have placed them in the final.
“I don’t know, but I feel you have to be able to cope with that kind of pressure. If you really want to become a team that can compete with the best in the world, then you should have known how to score those two goals,” said Oltmans. “We are not there yet. I am sure if Germany would have been playing that situation, they would have scored two or maybe three goals. That India still doesn’t do it marks the difference between us and the top sides in the world. That’s where work needs to be done,” he added.
Oltmans said there were a lot of positives from India’s campaign in the Azlan Shah Cup, where India slipped one notch below their silver medal of last year to end with a bronze.
“I never take anything negative out of a tournament, I look at what we can improve as a team, which is different from being negative,” said Oltmans. “In any team, there is always room for improvement. This is not the World Cup or the Olympic Games. This is the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, which was a good test for the young players,” he added.
“We came to Ipoh with several youngsters and a new combination. This was a very good learning experience for them and they do need some time to settle down at this level,” he said. “We want to test ourselves in certain areas. If that means the results dropping down a bit at this moment, it is okay with me.” said Oltmans. “A couple of players are not yet able to perform up to our expectations when the intensity of the encounter increases, but luckily we have enough time to improve that,” he added.
“There are some important tournaments coming up during this year. We must look at the bigger picture.”
For India, the bigger picture would include the Asia Cup in Dhaka scheduled from September 30 to October 8 and the World League Finals in Bhubaneswar in December.
Thereafter, India will look forward to four major outings in 2018 — the Commonwealth Games, the Champions Trophy, the Asian Games and the biggest one of them, the World Cup that will be played in Bhubaneswar.
“Out here, we tested quite a few different combinations. The observations from the tournament are very important for me,” said Oltmans, stressing on the significance of looking forward and grooming the next generation of international players.
“If we look at the statistics, by far we have had more circle penetrations than our opponents in almost every match. We’ve got a lot of goal-scoring opportunities, but the way we converted them is not good enough. We’ve got to work on it,” he said.
“If we keep our defensive structure and create some more opportunities, I think the team’s future is bright,” Oltmans added. Bracing for the World League Semi-finals in London in June, the Indian team will take a 10-day break before reassembling for a training camp.