'We need to play consistently well'

Hockey coach Michael Nobbs is quietly confident about Indias chances at the Olympics

Beijing will always remain a painful memory for Indian hockey. While the entire nation basked in unprecedented success, including Abhinav Bindra’s historic individual gold medal, the hockey fraternity was still struggling to come to terms with the act that their team had failed to make an Olympic appearence in eighty years.

Forced to compete with the lesser mortals to book their tickets to London this time, the eight-time champions secured their spot in style. With a confidence-boosting bronze medal finish in May’s Sultan Azlan Shah where six of the participating teams from London competed, India goes to the quadrennial bash with great hopes.

Completely aware of the daunting challenge, coach Michael Nobbs spoke to Deccan Herald about India’s chances, his goals and the energy in the team. Excerpts...

When you took charge last July, the only goal on your mind was to play at the London Olympics. Now that you are just weeks from realising that, how does it feel?

It’s a really nice feeling that all that you’ve planned in the last 8-9 months has attained fruition. The team has definitely improved a lot since I took charge and they are a happy bunch now. Although it’s the first step towards our goal of redeeming Indian hockey, we are still far from being the best. As I’ve said repeatedly many times in the recent past, we are a work in progress and have lots to do before being called a strong force.

Just like most others in the squad -- except Sandeep Singh and Ignace Tirkey -- this will be your maiden Olympics as well. Your thoughts…

It’s taken more than 40 years of me being involved in sports to achieve it, so it feels great. Participating in the Olympics is something indescribable and only the elite few get a chance. It’s an assembly of the best athletes across various disciplines, so if you are part of it, you can only imagine how fantastic it feels.

The team has good mixture of youth and experience. How do you rate our chances?

If you are too old you don’t win anything, and if you are too young inexperience can weigh you down. You need to always try and strike the right combination which we believe we have now. Having said that, we will be glad if we can finish on the podium.

We’ve been working extremely hard but know the stiff job ahead of us. The top 12 teams in the world will be out there and it’s going to be a massive slugfest. You need to play consistently well for two weeks. According to me, gold is Australia’s to lose while about four teams will be competing for silver and bronze.

A day before leaving India, the entire team had a chance to interact with former hockey Olympic champions. How motivating was that?

I don’t think it gave us any motivation. We respect history and the phenomenal achievements of these stalwarts. History is history and the true essence of a champion is to create history themselves. Some of them got goose bumps when they felt the medals and are proud to be part of nation that showed the world how to play the game. Having said that, we want to create our own history.  

Right from the start, you’ve laid huge emphasis on fitness. What’s the level now?

The fitness level has been at the highest. (Exercise physiologist) David (John) has been doing a fantastic job with these guys and the results are to be seen. We had brilliant high-altitude training session in Pune and that has really improved our stamina. As you know, fitness is a continuous process and we hope to maintain the high standards.

For a long time defence was our major concern. However, while that has improved our strikers have been extremely wayward, especially against big teams in the recent past which could cost us dearly? 

When you the play the big teams you only get a few chances and you need to make them count. Our strikers have been getting into good positions but have fluffed too often. It’s only in the last two months that we’ve started to play the big teams and our boys are learning. The conversion ratio is a concern and we are working on it. 

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