The year 2008 has been a momentous one for Indian hockey. The establishment found itself in troubled waters, but the sea change that was widely expected to follow the upheaval is yet to occur.
It has been a year of embarrassing scandals and an ignominious first. Failure to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, for the first time in 80 years, showed how deep the rot ran. But it also made the people at the helm sit up and take notice.
The so-called cash for selection expose, involving the IHF secretary general, set the cat among the pigeons, and the inquest that saw the dismantling of the K.P.S. Gill regime gave us hope that it is redemption time for a sport that has suffered enough.
Its true that things have moved slowly since the IOA suspended the IHF but lets hope we are headed in the right direction.
December held out a promise that came from the junior team. The India colts, led by their talented captain Diwakar Ram, scored an amazing series victory defeating the Argentine juniors in Argentina.
Much of the credit for the win was naturally attributed to their coach A.K. Bansal. I hope the authorities have paid due regard to the age limit while selecting the junior team. This team needs to be nurtured well to make sure we have a good squad ready for the upcoming international engagements.
Talking about coaching, the void at the helm of the senior national team remains. The FIH coach development committee representative, Tayyab Ikram, has handed a list of eight names that he recommends for the job to the ad hoc committee, notable among them are Maurits Hendriks, Bram Lomans and Taco van den Honert, all from the Netherlands. The list also inexplicably has a couple of Norwegian names on it. Those names are unfamiliar to me.
These people (Hendriks and Honert) have coached big teams, and India should really be looking to pick someone with vast experience and strong credentials. Weve lost Ric Charlesworth to Australia for reasons best known to the authorities concerned; there is no time to be lost now as the Commonwealth Games and the hockey World Cup are to be played in Delhi in near future.
Given the performance of the juniors, one might wonder if India at all need a foreign coach, but I remain convinced that the way things are at the moment, a coach from abroad is our best bet. I would like to reiterate that the foreign coach should devote a considerable part of his time to the needs of grassroots hockey.
That is where our future players are going to come from and it shall be a grave folly on our part if we neglect it. Then there is the question of standardisation of coaching techniques. Bansal has hit upon a winning formula with the junior team. But so have several other coaches on and off in the past.
Our aim should be to make sure we are consistently successful. We have to convert these one-off triumphs into something bigger.
For this we need a system that will groom youngsters in their formative years. Just one inspired coach wont help. We need an entire posse of them. A uniformity of coaching technique and a co-ordinated orientation will, I believe, serve our purpose.