Someone out there must summon the courage and demand that the Indian hockey team be recalled from the Olympics. It is getting painfully embarrassing to watch this bunch play what is supposed to be the National Game. It would not matter so much if they ended up with the wooden spoon but the team should be withdrawn just for the quality of the game it has put up.
Coach Michael Nobbs is frustrated. Understandably so. He just cannot make sense of the sudden slump of form in the players. As a unit they had been in fine fettle in the last 12 months. They even came up with a stellar performance in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in June, snatching the bronze medal from tough opponents. Two months on, the team has just disintegrated, mentally and otherwise.
Its showing brings back the memories of the disastrous tour of the Indian cricket team a year ago to England. The cricketers, all terrific performers, looked as listless and as disoriented as the hockey bunch now. They were outclassed in every department of the game and pounded out of contention match after match. It was again not the defeats that mattered so much as the humiliating show of lack of basic skills. Probably, England somehow brings out the worst in us.
The team’s defence is in disarray, its attack is disorganised and there is no hint of a game plan. The players cannot even trap the ball, one of the basic skills of the game; passes are not intercepted; shooting is misdirected and there’s no conversion of penalty corners into goals. Worse, there is no creation of scoring chances at the opponent’s goal post. And yes, too many goals are being conceded by the players. Something is surely amiss.
The team put up a decent fight match in the initial match against Netherlands, however, it has been a journey uphill since then. Indications that not everything was alright with the team was evident in the first match itself but it was forgiven since the Olympics is a big stage and initial jitters were expected. After four losses in a row, the team is assured of a place in the bottom of the table. The fixture with Belgium today will not lift the team off the bottom of the group table. Ironically, India had won its first hockey gold in England -- it was the 1948 Olympics.
This, incidentally, will be the lowest position in the Olympics for a team which has won the Olympics gold eight times. It had finished eighth at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The team was out of the 2008 Beijing Olympics after it failed to qualify for the event. It appears nothing much has been done to lift Indian hockey out of the morass after that.
It’s shameful. It’s a complete mess out there. The team looks out of steam, disjointed and confused. "This is a reality we have to face now... they have let themselves, the team, their supporters and the country down...It is not a God-given right to play for your country. It is an honour you earn through hard work. If they cannot play, we have to move on," said Nobbs. If he had a strategy for the opponents in place, the team has been found hopelessly wanting in executing it.
So what next for Indian hockey? ``Preparations and team building were going according to schedule and our results had showed we were improving. I don’t know what is going wrong,” he said. But he will need to find the answer. If it is about complacent players, they have to thrown out. If it is about lack of basic skills, he has to work on improving these.
Nobbs has his task cut out. One hopes the authorities don’t make him a scapegoat.