New Delhi: That India are among the best in Asia was not in doubt. They are sixth in the hockey world rankings and beating teams like Pakistan and Korea with consummate ease had become a habit until sudden losses to the 12th-ranked Malaysia —in back-to-back tournaments — earlier this year called for change and introspection.
Holland’s Sjoerd Marijne replaced long-serving countryman Roelant Oltmans, with the Asia Cup a first test for the 43-year-old. Marijne adopted a players’-first approach, asking them to take up leadership roles and more responsibility and the bunch responded strongly. The team returned home with the title and were unbeaten in the tournament that also had Malaysia, Korea, Pakistan besides others in the draw. Although much cannot be read into this Asia Cup title triumph given that India have work to do to match top European nations, there are many positives they will draw from the eight-nation event.
For Marijne, it was significant to begin on a winning note and set the rhythm for a busy and crucial 2018, that will see India host the World Cup at home. Marijne praised his boys but with a hint of caution, on the team’s return to New Delhi: “It was an important tournament for us and I am happy with the way the team responded.
“We played attacking hockey and scored some beautiful field goals, but we were not consistent.”Consistency has been an issue for India, with some days seeing them match the likes of Germany and Holland, while on others they would appear completely clueless.
Marijne said the Hockey World League Final in December at home would provide him with more answers. “We have to improve. The World League Final will be an interesting tournament, where I will get an idea of where we stand,” he said.
For now, the Dutchman would be pleased with the emergence of young goalkeepers Akash Chikte and Suraj Karkare who stepped up in the absence of Sreejesh P.R. Chikte picked up the goalkeeper of the tournament award, in what a significant plus for India who have often struggled in Sreejesh’s absence.
“The goalkeepers were very good. In all matches, they played in each half and conceded only four goals,” Marijne said. Young striker Gurjant Singh’s goal-poaching abilities was another highlight, while Lalit Upadhyay too dazzled with some brilliant goals. The team now take a short break, before regrouping in Bengaluru on November 5....