London: If India’s 4-1 win sounds clinical, do remember that it was 1-0 to Scotland at half-time and the script threatened to begin on a disastrous note. While the sweat beads grew on Indian foreheads, the breeze blowing across London’s Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre settled the Scots down nicely.

Thankfully, 10 minutes of straight talk from Roelant Oltmans at the break produced 15 minutes of magic and an Indian win on the opening day of the Hockey World League Semi-Final at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on Thursday.

India were missing close to 500 caps in their defensive wall with no PR Sreejesh, Rupinder Pal Singh and VR Raghunath present. If India wanted not to think about it, Scotland sent across an early reminder with a sixth-minute goal from skipper Chris Gassick. That they held onto the lead at half-time only swelled India’s concern, as the boys approached the tunnel heads down.

Whatever happened inside the Indian locker room, it sorted the players out and produced four goals in the third quarter – a brace by Ramandeep Singh and a strike each from Akashdeep Singh and Harmanpreet Singh.

Oltmans’s ‘straight talk’ did the trick

Oltmans was agitated and animated in the dugout during the first 30 minutes. He knew what was going wrong and at half-time, he did not mince words.

“We were hurrying ourselves too much, which was bringing about mistakes and missed chances. So I told the players to just slow down and wait for the right moment to pass the ball or strike,” Oltmans said after the match.

Ramandeep and Akashdeep missed a number of scoring opportunities until Oltmans told them what was going wrong. Uttar Pradesh Wizards’ striking duo then made the necessary corrections to turn things around.

“The coach asked them (the players) to play their natural game,” said Jugraj Singh, who works with India’s defenders and dragflickers to assist Oltmans. “They were told to not strive for anything different as it will only lead to mistakes.”

Ramandeep, the comeback man

Ramandeep couldn’t have made a better return to the team. Sidelined due to twin injuries – first after the 2016 Asian Champions Trophy and then following the Hockey India League, Ramandeep missed the season-opening Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.

“I was fully focused on my recovery and rehab while the team was in Malaysia. I am reaping the benefits of that, and it’s a wonderful feeling to score in your first match in six months,” Ramandeep told from London.

Ramandeep Singh was a happy man after that performance. Image credit: Jaspreet Sahni

The striker from Punjab first drew India level in the 31st minute and then put his team ahead three minutes later.

“We started a bit slow. Although we were attacking more, they managed to score first. Our passing wasn’t that sharp, which is why we didn’t make an impression in the first two quarters,” Ramandeep said.

Ramandeep hinted that Oltmans told the team to catch the Scots napping on counter attacks, which brought about a telling change in India’s game.

“He changed the plans a bit and asked us to be patient and rotate the ball. So we managed to score on the counters,” he said.

India shake off the conversion blues

Despite being denied on a number of occasions by Scotland goalkeeper Thomas Alexander, three field goals should make the Indian camp very happy.

The conversion rate of forwards was a worry at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, costing India a place in the final when they failed to score in the must-win game against hosts Malaysia. But the last 30 minutes of the opening game here ticked that box for India.

The game saw just one penalty corner for India and Harmanpreet Singh made no mistake, converting through his drag-flick.

Harmanpreet and Kothajit Singh shouldered India’s defence, which is missing Sreejesh, Rupinder and Raghunath together for the first time.

To this, Oltmans talked straight again, putting youngsters in the frame.

“Yes, that’s true, but don’t forget there is Surender (Kumar) who is with the team for the last one year, so don’t worry,” the coach signed off with a smile.