When Hockey India appointed Harendra Singh as the national coach of the men’s team on the first of May, some of the former players asked “Why so late?”

Sjoerd Marijne, who replaced a fellow (but more illustrious) Dutchman Roelant Oltmans, was steering the team on the right track before the blip at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and the no-medal show at the Commonwealth Games that led to his sacking.

“This decision [Harendra’s appointment] should have been taken when Oltmans was sacked and not now,” hockey legend Danraj Pillay had told The Field then. He also surmised then that “Indian players are comfortable with Indian coaches.”

On Tuesday, the theory was validated by PR Sreejesh, who’s back as the team captain. With Harendra – a man who he has known for the last 14 years – sitting beside him at the Sports Authority of India, Bengaluru, Sreejesh replied to a question of how the team is reacting to their seventh coach – first Indian coach – in 10 years.

“If you are in a hostel, you might find it tough to adjust to the atmosphere but when you are coming home, even if you get sambar rice, you are happy with that. You’ll like the homely atmosphere. That’s what we are feeling now,” Sreejesh said.

Asked to compare Marijne and Harendra, the Indian captain exemplified using food once more. “Sir (Harendra) eats dal chawal and he (Marijne) eats a lot of cheese,” he said in jest.

But there are serious reasons why the Indian players would prefer the one who consumes dal chawal.

One: Language. This was one of the reasons that Hockey India’s high performance director David John had mentioned for replacing Marijne with Harendra. “There’s always some communication problem. English to Hindi can be an issue.That’s not an excuse (for the medal-less show at Gold Coast). But Harendra will deliver the message in the required language to the players,” he had said.

In the dying seconds of a high intensity game, the team can’t afford so much time for the coach’s message to be translated. And in such pressure, without a proper translator, there’s also the risk of the message getting muddled.

Sreejesh agreed to it. “Yeah, there is no need of translation. Any player, even if it’s a junior, can go directly to the coach and discuss things.”

Sreejesh: ‘If he can draw a picture, I can help paint it’

Next thing, as Sreejesh pointed out, was comfort. And, this comfort might be a by-product of the language. “Everyone feels free to discuss things. That’s the first step in the process of improving as a team. So, from the last month, everyone is going forward, getting videos of themselves and discussing things.”

Most of the players in the current hockey squad have, at some point of their careers, been coached by Harendra. So the problem of getting adjusted to a new coach with three major tournaments – Champions Trophy (June-July), Asian Games (August-September) and the World Cup (November-December) – lined up this year won’t arise for the team that has seen coaches come and go often.

Harendra, too, said that he doesn’t need more time to get the Indian men ready to win the gold at the Asian Games. “I need time only when I don’t know the culture of the country, communication, the player behaviour, the player mindset and their background. But I have been close to the hockey setup for a long time now,” he said.

And because of this vast time spent in the Indian hockey setup, Harendra can guesstimate better the ideas that’d work with this team.

And the lack of experience in the Indian hockey setup is perhaps why Marijne’s ‘player-driven approach’ – where the players mostly decide the tactics on the field – was unsuccessful with the men’s team.

Captain Sreejesh elaborated on the topic. “In India, children are used to following teachers or parents. That’s our culture. That’s how we grew up. That’s what I used to do. I used to ask my dad when I wanted to do something major in my life… I am 30-plus. For everyone that sort of a mindset is there. So, he shows us a way to work. But in that I can ask him and suggest for improvements.”

“If he can draw a picture, I can help paint it. You can’t ask me to draw a picture and he will paint it. So, he should have an idea of what we are going to play and how we are going to play and we are going to help him,” he said.

Harendra: ‘I don’t need a lot of time to prepare for Asian Games’

Now, players can suggest ideas, provide their inputs and clarify their doubts but the decisions, Harendra said, will be taken by a “core group and the team management.”

Team, for him, comprises the players, coaches and the support staff – not just the players.

Harendra has less than three months to ready his boys for the all-important Asian Games (a top-of-the-podium finish there will earn them an Olympic berth). Asked if he felt under pressure to deliver even with the set of players he knows well, he said: “This is not pressure, this is an opportunity.”

“A coach who doesn’t acknowledge this risk (of failure) can’t deliver this result. I am a person who will take this challenge whenever it’s given to me. Which coach will have three major tournaments waiting for him in two months. Otherwise you’ll have to wait for two years to prove yourself that I am a good coach. I don’t need time.”