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December 13, 1999


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Kuala Lumpur blues

Cedric D'Souza

The Indian team is back with the bronze medal from the recently-concluded Asia Cup at Kuala Lumpur. Given the limitations within this youthful team, it performed quite creditably. Let us look at the statistics during the tournament. Matches played 5, won 3, drew 1 and lost 1. Goals scored 16 goals, goals conceded 9.

Our best match, and most emotional one from India's point of view, was the semi-final, where we had the in-form and eventual winners South Korea in a cauldron. Leading them by four goals to two, with the clock ticking away, we all felt that we had the match wrapped up. However, we did not take into account the fighting qualities of the Koreans, who are known to come out firing on all cylinders when the chips are down. In the end, they not only equalised the two-goal deficit, but also stole the winner late to clinch the match 5-4.

I have no doubt that the team's performance will be dissected and scrutinised by the top brass of Indian hockey in the coming days. And if one is to go by the Indian Hockey Federation's past track record, then surely one will see heads roll - be it the players' or some from the team management. I sincerely hope that we do not have a repeat of what happened post Asian Games, when, in a matter of a couple of months, we lost the backbone of experience within the team.

What makes a consistent international team? Well, to start with, the team must have the basic levels of fitness and skill, and an able modern coach who is tactically sound and can plan strategy and motivate his wards. Apart from this there must be adequate experienced players so that the team does not feel intimidated by its opponents. This is precisely why I am such a strong advocate for experienced players, who are fit enough, to be part of the team. One has to put aside ruffled egos and do what is right in the larger interest of the game. No matter what people say, for me our youthful team lacks experience - a vital component that is directly linked to team performance.

Can we honestly say that our team of today creates the same fear in the hearts of our opponents, like those of the past? No. Let us get one fact straight: it is the experienced players who carry the youth through in trying times. They are the ones who provide the team with a sense of stability.

The lack of an overall policy in coaching or administering the sport is what basically kills the careers of many a budding star. This is the primary reason why we see so many frequent changes in the team - be it coaches or players. Since the federation has decided to discard the senior, experienced, players and pursue with youth - then one must hope that they do not take any drastic measures when the youngsters do not deliver the goods in the initial stages of their international careers. The IHF must give them a fair chance and persist with them; expose them to elite international teams whenever possible and allow them to build their confidence and thinking capacity.

Another thought that comes to mind is that if the IHF does have a change of heart and decides to include the discarded senior, experienced, players, then they must induct them well in advance of the team's departure for tournaments. One must not forget that harmonious combination does not come overnight. Recalled players must be given a fair time frame to work out a good sense of combined play with the younger players. Apart from this, they must also be given ample time to get their bodies back into shape to once again face the rigours of international competition. Lastly, once they are part of the unit, thorough assessments via-a-vis their capability should be ascertained while on tours, and if the situation does arise - where the player does not live upto expectations - then he should be dropped in a dignified manner.

The reason for the above paragraph is because Dhanraj Pillay, one of the discarded seven after the Asian Games, did eventually join the team, but in my opinion lacked the support he is so used to. Although there were reports that Mukesh Kumar was also being recalled, it is reliably learnt that Mukesh was not even contacted to join the camp. Had Mukesh been there, he would have been an able ally for the rampaging Dhanraj.

Former captain Mohammad Riaz and goalkeeper Edward Aloysious were injured during the camp - Riaz ,with an ankle strain, while Aloysious had minor surgery on his toe - and not included in the side. However, it is learnt that both players were fit to play by the time the team played its first match, but the team management felt they could do without their services. Indeed, their experience would have benefited the team immensely.

Now comes a very controversial subject that was floating around Kuala Lumpur during the tournament. There seemed to be a division within the team as the manager and the coach did not see eye to eye. There was an instance when, in full view of the team and spectators, manager Jyotikumaran (who is also the secretary general of the IHF) tore the team sheet that was handed over to the technical delegate by coach Bhaskaran and then handed over a fresh line-up. Now, in my book, this is not done.

Then, there was an instance where coach Bhaskaran did not attend the press conference, which was addressed by Jyotikumaran, who went on to say that he had planned the strategy and made the tactical changes. One also hears that it was Jyoti was made changes during the matches. Well, if it was with the consent of the coach, then it is fine. But reports say that substitutions were being made without Bhaskaran's approval, which, if true, is again totally unethical, unprofessional and wrong.

The abovementioned instances give enough food for thought as to who was really coaching the team, as queried by a journalist who covered the tournament. It is common knowledge in the international world of professional sport that the coach is the head honcho in the team; he is the master of ceremonies and every other person within the team management is an aid to him. The manager's job functions are basically administrative and, with all due respect to Jyotikumaran, he should not have interfered with the coaching. That department is totally the onus of the coach; what he says goes. Yes, the manager can give his suggestions and views, but it is the coach's prerogative whether to heed or discard the advice. At no time can the manager enforce his views on the coaching department. And even if there is some disagreement within the management, matters must never come to head in view of the outside world, least of all in front of the players.

As I have been hollering for so long, it is vital that the functions of each person in the team management are specified. But for that there will have to be written contracts - something the IHF is against - which will make everyone accountable. Then only will all this ambiguity and passing the buck to save one's own hide be a thing of the past. In its place one will see a healthy and streamlined relationship between the IHF and the team.

Is this an unreasonable request?

With just seven months left, rumour has it that there is a possibility that Bhaskaran may be axed and C R Kumar will replace him. Did not the IHF say that Bhaskaran was given the job till the Sydney 2000 Olympics? If all this talk about replacing Bhaskaran is untrue then the IHF should immediately come out with a statement and rebut it.

At the time of Bhaskaran's appointment, Jyotikumaran was asked what he felt about the federation entering into a contract with coaches (a requirement and condition I was adamant about when the IHF approached me to handle the national coach's portfolio). His reply, then, was that there is no need to sign contracts, as there is mutual trust between Bhaskaran and the IHF. Well, if one is to pay heed to the latest rumour, then, I for one, would really be interested to hear what the IHF has to say about this mutual trust. And with that, I leave it to you to make your own judgement as to where the IHF is heading as we approach the new millennium.

Cedric D'Souza

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