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January 29, 2000


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Lessons for the learning

Cedric D'Souza

Hard on the heels of the Asia Cup fiasco when one of our team management personnel got knocked on the head in Malaysia for eve teasing, comes another controversy. One of many that continue to ail our sport, with no lessons having been learnt from earlier mistakes.

The IHF, as past of its preparation for the Sydney Games, laid down plans wherein the team gets maximum international exposure, thereby ensuring that the team has sufficient experience playing the various teams around the globe. One such tour was the European tour - where India played a four-nation tournament in Spain, followed by Test matches against Canada, and three against Belgium.

However, before I enlighten you on this, let me give you some insights as to what happened prior the team's departure. It is common knowledge that Dhanraj Pillay walked out of the Jammu camp and went to meet IHF president Mr. Gill. Of course, the reason given was that he had to go and attend a former teammate's marriage. However, there are a number of reasons that have been brought to my notice as to why he took this stand:
1. He and coach V Bhaskaran were having problems and could not see eye to eye
2. He and a host of other experienced players were peeved about the captaincy issue and, as always, Pillay took on the mantel of being the spokesperson.

Remember, the team already boasts of two former captains - Pillay himself and Mohammad Riaz - as also another senior experienced player in Mukesh Kumar. As was the policy in the past, captains were appointed on seniority - i.e. the seniormost player automatically donned the captain's tag. Now, out of the blue Ramandeep Singh has been appointed captain.

I am very fond of Ramandeep and find him an ideal candidate for the job, however my choice is not the issue. An IHF selection criterion is.

Yes, it is the right of the IHF to select the captain as no one can demand captaincy. But wouldn't it have been better had the IHF had a talk with the so-called disgruntled players to smoothen ruffled feathers? Whatever the IHF's reasons in appointing Ramandeep, this problem should not have arisen especially as the team was on the verge of a tour. Starting the tour on a wrong footing basically breaks the team prior to departure itself!

I am given to understand that Mr. Gill gave Pillay a patient hearing and pacified him with the promise that he would look into the matter. He also assured Pillay that there would be a change in the team management post the tour.

Then, there was another controversy at the Jammu camp. The IHF decided to induct BSF personnel to take care of the fitness and oversee the general training of the team during the camp. Now, again one hears that the team would not comply with the trainer's instructions nor cooperate with him. This is an absolute no-no in my book. The team must undergo the training regime set out for them and at no time take matters into their own hands by refusing to complete the work-outs.

The coach, with all due respect to Bhaskaran, should have ensured that the team completed the work-outs, by hook or by crook. I for one would have planned the team's fitness schedule and work-out with the fitness expert, stood alongside him during the training and ensured that the team completed the planned programme. The coach has to use all his guile and man-management skills to motivate the team to perform above their normal threshold. Therefore, motivation and managing players, for me, are two of the main areas that coaches have to be at their optimum to attain a level of success. Remember all these work-outs are only simulations that are carried out during the training camps to train to play and perform; in comparison these are in no way as stressful as the real thing. Unless we train for it and develop inborn resistance to stress, we will always be found wanting and underprepared.

There are other various ways of ensuring that the team completes the planned work-outs. I for one would use the following: motivation and stimulation - by inculcating the sense of pride and the will to achieve/perform for oneself and the country; accountability - especially when it comes to rewards and recognition; setting goals, the threat perception of being dropped from the team etc.

But what is disheartening and rather distressing is to see the players refusing to comply with instruction. This just goes to prove how much the game has changed, how attitudes have changed, how players have taken the law into their own hands. It all boils down to lack of respect for the team management, to their fellow teammates and the game itself. Where are all those elements that the players of yesteryear possessed? Fire in the belly, national pride, the willingness to train and work oneself to a grinding halt without being told, self motivation etc? They seem to have taken a back seat as commerce seems to have taken pole position in today's sport. I am a firm believer that we must change with the times and a worker must be paid wages for his work; but equally so, I am also a staunch believer that in-discipline and disloyalty cannot be tolerated. In this world of progress we must be ready to give and accept equally.

Let me get back to the European tour.
The four-nation
India played Canada on the first day - and beat them 1-0, the all-important goal was scored by Samir Dad, off Dhanraj Pillay's spadework - where he reverse flicked towards the goal after beating the defense. Just before the ball trickled in Samir put the finishing touches.

Then came the game versus Germany where they beat us by two goals to one. Although Germany were an under-prepared team, having played no outdoor hockey as their indoor season was on, they can never be considered easy pushovers. They are a team that has fantastic basics and brilliant tactical sense and adaptability and one should never underestimate them.

The last match against eventual winners Spain was billed to be a cliff-hanger what with abundant skills on view by both teams. However, it was in the first 20 minutes that India lost the game - when it conceded three goals. We did come back in the second half to reduce the margin before Spain pumped in two more to win by 5 goals to 3.

The Test series
We again beat Canada 3-2 before taking on Belgium in three Tests. We narrowly beat them 3-2, then drew the next one 1-1 before mauling them in the last one 4-0.

I have been given to understand that there are quite a few tournaments lined up for India in preparation for Sydney. The recently-concluded European tour, the upcoming Azlan Shah in Malaysia in February - featuring Pakistan, Germany, South Korea, New Zealand and Canada; then the Egypt tour, the Bhopal six-nation and then the double-leg tournaments in Australia.

During an interview I was asked by a BBC correspondent whether India's participation in the above tournaments was adequate for the team's Olympic preparation. My answer was that a team could have international exposure on a continuing basis and still not improve. Yes, basically, it is not the number of international matches/tournaments that count but the lessons learnt from them that is of paramount importance. The plan is sound - sufficient exposure; but the key is to identify mistakes from each of these tours and rectify them prior the big games. If we continue to participate at the international level without learning then we are wasting the tax payers' money and conducting an exercise in futility.

What are the lessons learned from the European tour? What are our deficiencies?

There is no doubt that we still have the talent to shake any opposition, but at the same time we have to utilise all our strengths at the opportune moment.

We still lack in physical fitness, psychological and mental approach and, as far as the skill factor goes, we need to concentrate on our goal-scoring, basic defensive play - channeling, meeting the opposition, closing down the gaps, creation of gaps, penalty-corners attack and defense, counterattacking and possession etc. These are some of the gray areas that need addressing and sharpening if we are to make any impact at the Olympics in Sydney.

Cedric D'Souza

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