Once Indian Hockey used to dominate the world for many decades but in recent years it has seen a major decline. With the Rio Olympics 2016 just around the corner, the preparation of the Indian Hockey team entered into the final stretch. Sardar Singh, captain of Indian Hockey Men’s team spoke to Nishant Kr Azad about India’s chances in Rio and discussed other shortcomings which the Indian team has been facing. Excerpts:
- We have a glorious past in hockey. Between 1928-1980, India won 8 Olympic gold medals but after that we could not win even a single one. What are the reasons behind this decline?
Astro turfs and changes in the game rules have impacted the game. Due to introduction of Astro turfs the game is now more about physical skills than technical. However, the team is adapting and improving. Its performance is now visible and the national team is again consistently competitive on the international stage.
- The team's overall performance at the Azlan Shah Cup was quite good. India defeated Pakistan by good margin yet it was unfortunate that the team lost to Australia in the finals. However, competition at the Olympics will be even tougher. Take us through the team's preparations for Rio Olympics.
I feel that even though we would have loved to have come back with the trophy from Ipoh (Malaysia), I definitely believe in the team’s immense capability and that we would put forth a good show. We weren’t in full strength but across the tournament, we proved our mettle very well. Since the Asian Games in 2014 where we won the gold, the team has improved a lot. As far as preparations are concerned, we are doing our best to leave no stone unturned.
This being the Olympics year, each and every game is being constantly monitored to ensure we are peaking at the right time. The team is undergoing rigorous training, ensuring we keep fit, eat right, and focus on fixing the gaps. With the Champions Trophy and the Rio Olympics as the most crucial events, we are raring to go strong as a team.
- Who will be your key players at the Rio Olympics?
You will definitely see experienced players in Rio who could include PR Sreejesh, Akashdeep Singh, Manpreet Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, SV Sunil, RV Raghunath amongst others.
- Indian hockey team could not perform well at the London Olympics 2012. How would you rate India’s chances at the Rio Olympics in the wake of present form of the team?
Our core mission is to win a medal in Rio and overall put forth an enhanced and vastly improved performance by each team member in the coming tournaments and especially Rio Olympics.
We had an experimental team for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup; however, we had a good show there considering that the team was not in full strength. We will get the last chance to rectify the gaps during the Champions Trophy in London in June. I want to concentrate on these upcoming tournaments and focus on what is ahead of us. We are completely focused on our game and the team's performance in Rio.
- Conversion of penalty corners has been a concern area for India over the last several years. What specific preparations are being undertaken by the team to address this area?
We are conscious of the weak areas. We are working to eliminate the flaws that have weighed down the Indian team in the past like conversion of penalty corners. Our Coach is laying special emphasis on working on overall training, new strategies and tactics to create more opportunities inside the opponent’s striking circle by earning more short corners and not to concede any early or late goals and better conversions of penalty corners.
- Indian Hockey has had a bad record with foreign coaches. This is the fifth coach we have in the last 6 years. How do you look at the present coach? How is the team's rapport with Coach Roelant Oltmans?
We have a great Chief Coach in Roelant Oltmans, who is a very sharp observer of the game. I can confidently say that the team is working in the right direction and is making 100 per cent effort to win the upcoming tournaments under his watchful eyes.
He understands our culture very well having spent 3-4years with us; he knows us inside out and creates a friendly atmosphere.
- How do you rate Hockey India League (HIL)? Has the league helped in discovering new talents for Hockey India? Also, Pakistan players are not part of the HIL. Do you feel Pak players should be allowed to take part in HIL?
The HIL has really done wonders in uplifting the overall perception of Hockey in India and creating a much needed impression of players from both India and abroad. Undoubtedly, it has emerged as the most popular field hockey leagues in the world after four successful seasons. It not only brings together the best talent in the world, but also gives the upcoming talent from India a chance to share the same platform with their heroes. The Hockey India League has given us some great talents which have been identified and now are a part of the national camp in SAI Centre, Bengaluru preparing for the FIH Champions Trophy and Rio Olympic Games.
I don’t feel any team should be denied the chance to play, we always consider merit above everything else, and we cherish the spirit of unity and sportsmanship.
- You have seen several ups and downs in your career. Share your most memorable moment with us.
Whenever we win a medal and see India’s flag up it’s always a moment of proud feeling. I can recall the Commonwealth 2010 match against England, the score was 3-0, we were losing the match and I could see the sulking faces of the Indian audiences. Only 3 minutes were left to the final quarter. At that moment, the team made a miraculous comeback. We won the match on penalty stroke. It is still as fresh in my mind as it were only yesterday.