A trend-setter in his own right

The highly articulate and ever-smiling Kruize, with an experience of 202 internationals and 170 goals in a career spanning from 1970-86, started off the chat with a frank observation on the scenario back home.

V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

WHAT is so great about Thies Kruize? This was a query from a new generation hockey fan during the three-match `Test' series between India and Holland. Though it might be difficult to give a true picture of the greatness he achieved during his playing days, one vital piece of information is that he was the top-scorer of the 1972 Munich Olympics with 19 goals. The gentleman may be pardoned for not many in the media too were aware of his awesome reputation.

Thies Kruize was in Hyderabad recently as the manager of the Dutch hockey team which played a Test series against India. -- Pic. K. GAJENDRAN-

But that was Kruize who delighted the local media with his free-for-all attitude by lining up any player wanted by the media to be interviewed. And more importantly, his influence on the Dutch camp was one of the key factors which had a sobering influence on the performances of his players.

The highly articulate and ever-smiling Kruize, with an experience of 202 internationals and 170 goals in a career spanning from 1970-86, started off the chat with a frank observation on the scenario back home. "There were some problems in the Dutch camp. There were quite a few players who wanted one coach or the other and openly expressed reservations on the previous incumbent. So, we opted for the best way out by recruiting Australian Terry Walsh for he is one who never interacted with any of the players for he didn't know anyone of them. He started virtually from a zero level," he pointed out.

The Dutch manager also reminded that the root-cause for the change in guard was the dismal performance in the European Championship where by bowing out in the semi-finals, they missed the chance of booking a berth for the Athens Olympics.

"After the coach's appointment, the next move was to make me the manager," he added.

Apparently, the Dutch national federation was keen to keep the destiny in the `safe' hands of Walsh and Kruize by the sheer weight of their performances. "We treated this hockey series as an opportunity to see how well the team settles down before the Olympic qualifiers" Kruize mentioned. "It is political but at the same time means good competition and preparation ahead of the Olympics," was the crisp reply of Walsh when asked to comment on the new rule which made it mandatory even for the defending Olympic champions (Dutch) to go through the qualifying rounds. But, Kruize is not perturbed. "We hope the team will peak at the right time," was his observation.

A penalty corner specialist during his days, Thies Kruize was the top scorer of the 1972 Olympics. -- Pic. THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY-

What exactly is the reason for Holland producing such outstanding penalty-corner experts over the years? Well, there can be no better person than Kruize to say for he was the trend-setter with his stunning goal-spree in the Munich Olympics which continued with the emergence of Paul Litjens, Floris Bovelander, Bram Lomans and now Taeke Taekema to name a few in this key area. "The big advantage we have is that it takes just two hours for us to travel from one corner to another in our country. Thus the talent scouting is comparatively easier and once we find genuine talent we start grooming them from the age of 14 years," he says. And to make a point, the reference was made to Taeke Taekema who was first groomed by him playing for Club. But, how come so many penalty-corner specialists? "I think it has to do something with Holland's history. The youngsters are keen to emulate the heroes of yesteryear and there are quite a few reputed names in this department in Holland," he quipped. What is the big difference he sees in the art of converting these short-corners? "Well, in those days it was all about hitting the ball hard.

Now it is the sleep push (the drag flick as it is called in this part of the world). Let me remind here that I thought your Jugraj Singh was brilliant. It was unfortunate that he met with that car accident and we all wish he will be in action very soon," he remarked. At the same time, Kruize asserts that the 350 clubs and the 1100 astro-turfs of three varieties ensure the assembly line of classy players.

Commenting on the contemporary style of the game, the 51-year-old Kruize feels that the game is no more individualistic as the common fan will love to identify himself with a particular player. "The concept of total hockey has taken away this element for the focus is more on collective effort rather than on individual brilliance," he said.

The Dutch great admits that the change of rules are rarely helpful to the two sub-continent teams — India and Pakistan. "But, personally, I love to see these two teams fight it out in the middle for they produce high quality fare always. It is important for the sport that the two are always there at the top ," said the honest Dutch gentleman.

Kruize also pointed out that India has the best potential to produce quality players for the simple reason that even if five per cent of it's population is interested in the sport, one can imagine the cascading effect it will have.

"But, essentially I sincerely believe that to groom the talent, the structure has to be really good," he added.