The Indian hockey team may have climbed to No. 6 in the world rankings but its ability to cope with pressure remains suspect, feels coach Roelant Oltmans. Not only do they come under pressure in the closing stages of international encounters, during the past week, India were also found wanting when challenged with the demand of a two-goal victory over a resilient lower-ranked opponent during the 26th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tournament.
“We can play fantastic hockey and we have shown that often, but you need to prove your ability when there is real pressure,” says Oltmans. In the last league match against Malaysia, the Indian team seemed to wilt under pressure coming from the requirement of a two-goal victory that would have placed them in the final.
“I don’t know, but I feel you have to be able to cope with that kind of pressure. If you really want to become a team that can compete with the best in the world, then you should have known how to score those two goals,” Oltmans pointed- “We are not there yet. I am sure if Germany would have been playing that situation, they would have scored two or maybe three goals. That India still doesn’t do it marks the difference between us and the top sides in the world. That’s where work needs to be done,” he added.
The coach, though, said there were a lot of positives from India’s campaign in the Azlan Shah Cup, where the side slipped a notch below their last year’s silver-medal finish.
“I never take anything negative out of a tournament. I look at what we can improve as a team, which is different from being negative,” said Oltmans. “In any team, there is always room for improvement. This is not the World Cup or the Olympic Games. This is the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, which was a good test for the young players,” the coach asserted -“We came to Ipoh with several youngsters and a new combination. This was a very good learning experience for them and they do need some time to settle down at this level.”
“We want to test ourselves in certain areas. If that means the results dropping down a bit at this moment, it is okay with me,” said Oltmans, who saw his sixth-ranked team in the world struggle to overcome No. 16 Japan in the league fixture and two days later succumb to No. 14 Malaysia.
“A couple of players are not yet able to perform up to our expectations when the intensity of the encounter increases, but luckily we have enough time to improve that,” he said.
“There are some important tournaments coming up during this year. We must look at the bigger picture.”
For India, the bigger picture would include the Asia Cup in Dhaka scheduled from September 30 to October 8 and the World League Finals in Bhubaneswar in December. (Agency)