Doubts Surround Hockey Coaching Staff

Sumati Mehrishi is a journalist and an avid Hockey fan.

In Indian Hockey, things usually tend to fall apart before they begin to improve. After a numbing failure at the London Olympics, and the lull following it, 48 probables will be attending the national camp in a week from now to prepare for the Champions Trophy. Yet, no one’s really ecstatic. Indian ex-coaches and ex-Olympians are disappointed with the sluggish start to the preparation for the 2016 Rio Olympics and Hockey India’s ‘Vision 2020’. The rickety base—the coaching staff—to begin with. Ex-coaches feel that the team should have had a uniform play system in place by now; focused on selection and training strategies, have egos sorted out and wounds healed.

Also, Michael Nobbs, who Hockey India had made the face of “change” was missing from the most important event at the domestic front – the senior nationals held in Bangalore. He says in an email, “I understand the reason I haven’t got my visa letter, it’s held up at the Minister’s office. It has been signed off by HI and SAI and awaiting final signature. So they tell me it is coming. I hope to be back by then as we need to start to prepare for the Champions Trophy. Yes, I would have liked to have come back a little earlier.”

At this precarious juncture, people at HI and ex-coaches feel MK Kaushik could have provided Nobbs and David John backup. Batra says, “MK Kaushik could live up to the changing pace of the game and the present standards. Unfortunately he is facing a trial.”

In a dampener, coaches Clarence Lobo and M Riaz have been reinstated after the London debacle. This is not going down well with ex-coaches players and hockey sympathisers. They feel Riaz and Lobo will eclipse the good efforts from the tenacious BJ Cariappa who was doing a wonderful job with the junior side.

During the national camp for London at Balewadi, Pune, barely six days before the team flew to France and Spain in June a prominent player was heard expressing disappointment at Lobo’s training methods. Batra is unaware of the rough sides. “No one has told me anything. Had there been issues, the players would have spoken. I was in London with the team and all was fine,” says he.

image: Sumati Mehrishi

The silence from the players is understood. A prominent former national coach says, “Players can never perform when they know they are blamed for putting up a poor show. Nobbs has terrible coaches assisting him.” Players in the London squad have expressed concerns to this writer on “the coaches reporting late on the field during the morning hours” at national camps, “low interest in the matters of the team” during the London Olympics, their “inability to address low morale among players in London” and “the disastrous re-appointments”. “Sab David karta hai. Baaki teen sotey rehte hain (David does everything. The three keep napping (literally and metaphorically).” An ex-coach tells us, “Riaz and Lobo lack discipline. They rarely have inputs or observations to contribute during video analysis.”

Kaushik was invited by Hockey Karnataka secretary AB Subbhaiah to witness the senior nationals held in Banglore. Kaushik says, “I have not been told anything related to my role in the men’s squad. I have lost a lot of time fighting my cause and will continue to say that I am innocent. I will hope for the best.”

The slot of the ‘high performance manager’, the coveted job is waiting for a name. Narendra Batra has made it clear he means serious business on the national front. He says, “A high performance manager will be instrumental in getting things back on track.”

Over some hushed-up jarring moments between them in London, John and Nobbs have been able to keep things going in an orchestrated effort. A high performance manager could help start with a firm base.

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