‘We are still on the blocks’

I am amazed by the resources available here and if harnessed properly there will surely be a huge revival of hockey.’-K. MURALI KUMAR

Indian hockey is at its lowest point and should be looking to improve on every count, says Ric Charlesworth in a chat with Avinash Nair.

Status quo or change? This is the question Indian hockey needs to address straightaway. If it prefers status quo then for the next 20 years Indian hockey needn’t look at any development work. It will then continue to languish at the bottom of world hockey.

If Indian hockey is looking for a change, then the IHF (Indian Hockey Federation) should seek to improve its position by at least one slot every year from its current ranking of World No. 9. And by the 2012 London Olympics, India should be amongst the top six in the world and vie for a semi-final berth. This was the view of Dr. Ric Charlesworth, the technical director of Indian hockey, who spoke to Sportstar on the sidelines of the hockey coaches’ clinic at the SAI South Centre in Bangalore.

Excerpts from the interview:

Question: Happy that the ‘ruckus’ is finally dying down?

Answer: We are still on the blocks. Indian hockey is at its lowest point and should be looking to improve on every count. But then, nothing happens overnight. It will happen over 4-5 years time; you can’t expect it earlier.

What about India’s runner-up finish in the Azlan Shah tournament recently?

It’s heartening, but not satisfying. None of the top teams were there and those present were not in full strength. We lost to Argentina, albeit narrowly. But then India too fielded a developing side.

How do you rate this Indian team?

Well... there is immense potential and talent available. Some of the boys have a great sense of hockey in them.

Then what’s the reason behind India’s poor showing?

Spoilt habits amongst the players, bureaucracy and improper infrastructure (sighs!). Shaky defence and poor finishing is the team’s Achilles’ heel.

How different is the Australian hockey structure when compared with India’s?

Here, tell me what’s the address of the IHF? In Australia, when one walks into the Hockey Centre, there are five people looking after the planning, five into sponsorships, another five into the publicity and five more into coaching… So we have a host of people just there, on jobs specifically assigned to them.

Here, there is no video of our performances in the recent past because the analysts could not make it. That’s not the way it should be. But I’m floored by the affection that the nation has for the game.

In Australia the resources are not even half of what I see here. I am amazed by the resources available here and if harnessed properly there will surely be a huge revival of hockey.

Is infusing youngsters the answer then?

It should be an ongoing process... the youth should be good enough to fill in the positions. In India we see many players quitting in their mid-20s. Actually, they should be peaking from 25 to 30 years and many good players have failed to continue. But again, there is an urgent need for a lot of international exposure.

What about women’s hockey in India?

It’s the same situation that the men are in. Maybe they are a few notches lower than the men. There is good talent but lack of guidance and proper motivation. There should be goals set for the players to achieve.

Now that the IOA (Indian Olympic Association) has taken charge, can we look forward to some drastic changes?

No. The interim committee cannot take any major decisions. And in the process we are losing out on time. Our focus should be on the Asian Games and then the London Olympics.

Time is too short for the Asian Games, but a good showing there will give India an automatic qualification for the Olympics. Let’s leave the World Cup aside... if it happens it will, but then the focus should be on the London Olympics and that’s a good four years away.

Your take on the Indian coaches?

I am surprised that many of them have not seen a ‘live’ international hockey match in the recent past. The coaches have to make the players realise their responsibility and the capability of performing to their potential. Obviously there is a lot of enthusiasm but they need to be more updated.

And what about these workshops?

I was informed just two days before the workshops and I am not prepared myself. But it will be largely interactive sessions.

And at the end of the five-day sessions, hopefully, at least some of them will go back with a lot more inputs.