Harendra finds fault with coaching in the South

With the junior World Cup at home later this year, Harendra understands that much is expected of his bunch.

Harendra Singh, coach of the Indian Junior men's hockey team, during a training session at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) south (Kengeri), in Bengaluru.   -  K. Murali Kumar

The seamless transition of young players like Harmanpreet Singh, Mandeep Singh and Harjeet Singh into the senior team has given Harendra Singh reason to smile.

Coach of India’s junior men’s hockey side, Harendra believes that the presence of the two camps side by side has benefited his lot a great deal.

“Thus far in Indian hockey, the senior and junior teams had never trained together,” he said at the SAI here on Friday. “This is one of the best things to have happened. The juniors get to observe and learn from the seniors. The juniors do the same training and drills the seniors do. So when a junior makes the step up to the senior side, he won’t feel like a new bride who needs a week, month or a year to get acquainted with the family.”

It’s not just the players who have benefited. Harendra too has relished the opportunity to interact frequently with Roelant Oltmans, high performance director and chief coach of the senior team. “He’s one of the best strategists there is,” Harendra said of the Dutchman.

“In 2011, when SAI and HI were looking for a coach and Roelant had applied, I said that we should hand the team over to him without a second thought. But we didn’t and wasted two-three years. After 2012, we realised (that he was the right man). His inputs on modern hockey have been great. He’s always available for the junior players. I’ve learnt how to make the dressing room comfortable, which was lacking earlier.”

Oltmans’s tactical nous would have come in handy at the 2000 Olympics, felt Harendra, who was the assistant coach then. India missed out on a semifinal berth after conceding a late equaliser to Poland in the final pool match. “I don’t mind admitting that we lost that medal in Sydney because of our failed coaching strategy,” he said. “We can’t blame the players. I have never coached a more talented bunch. When 90 seconds are left and you are winning 1-0, you have to know how to keep the ball.”

Asked about the absence of players from Karnataka in the junior camp, Harendra said: “It’s the first time in history that there is no player from southwards of Bhopal in the National camp. There is something lacking in coaching in the South, in terms of the qualities the national selectors are looking for. But maybe this is a transitional period. In the late 80s and early 90s, Punjab was going through a similar phase, and now it has regained its glory. But there is no disputing that the best players in the country are in the National camp.”

With the junior World Cup at home later this year, Harendra understands that much is expected of his bunch. “We were the hosts last time too, but the result was not what we expected,” he said. “We need to improve our pre-scanning and we have six months to do that. Right now, we are very close to where we want to be.”