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Concerns about Indian men’s hockey team’s post-Tokyo show: Real or unfounded? | Hockey News – Times of India

NEW DELHI: A lot of activity happened between India’s upset defeat against France in South Africa and the two Pro League games against Spain last weekend. The tone of affairs between Delhi and Bhubaneswar was one of ‘damage control’, especially because it followed a tersely worded letter to Hockey India (HI) that labelled India’s performance since the Tokyo Olympics bronze medal as “unacceptable”.
Socks needed to be pulled up, even if the reaction after a one-off defeat appeared surprising. Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president Narinder Batra, who also heads the International Hockey Federation (FIH), had written that letter to HI — citing performances in the Asian Champions Trophy (ACT) in Dhaka and the Pro League tour of South Africa.
India finished as the bronze medallists in Dhaka. The team won three of its four matches in South Africa, beating the hosts and France comprehensively, but the 2-5 defeat in the second match against France fueled these words: “I will not accept Team India to be mishandled and mismanaged, such incompetence will have to make way,” Batra wrote in the letter.

(India won the first game against Spain 5-4, but lost the second 3-5 – Photo: Hockey India)
You don’t use ‘mishandled’ and ‘mismanaged’ in a conversation without knowing that something happened beyond the field of play. But everyone is tight-lipped about it as of now.
Thus, it’s hard to stomach such a stern reaction to a solitary defeat, especially against the ever-improving French team, which had also defeated India twice at the Junior World Cup last December. But the Indian senior team’s performance in the ACT was definitely below par.
Nevertheless, players and coaches being called to Delhi by Batra for talks and then the IOA president flying out to Bhubaneswar, playing ‘team-building’ games, perhaps painted more-than-what-meets-the-eye scenes.

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(Narinder Batra interacting with players during his visit to Bhubaneswar – Photo courtesy: Narinder Batra)
Over the last weekend, India played the first game against Spain like they had their lives depending on a victory. It was a jail-break 5-4 win, after the Spaniards had taken a 4-1 lead. The expression of relief on the faces of Indian players couldn’t be missed, but the comeback effort too can’t be overlooked. It was commendable in every sense.
But international teams don’t allow comebacks everyday. Spain’s homework appeared more neat 24 hours later, and the final scoreline read 5-3 in favour of the visitors.
That Saturday expression of ‘relief’ changed to tense furrows on Indian foreheads on Sunday, hinting that the result had some relation to the developments that took place in the two weeks between India’s return from France and last Sunday.
To relate that to performance on the field, the inconsistency across the six games in South Africa and Bhubaneswar can’t be debated. But if a coach is trying to find the best combination and tactics for the big tournaments ahead, many would vouch for not reading too much into such stumbles on the way.

Still, could Graham Reid be on notice? It can’t be completely denied, especially knowing India’s love-hate relationship with foreign coaches.
In contrast, India needs a steady rhythm in the next 12 months that include the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the World Cup.
On a concluding note, when TimesofIndia.com asked Spain’s head coach Max Caldas what he feels is the difference between India that lost to the Netherlands team he was coaching at the 2018 World Cup and the India that won the Olympic bronze in 2021, he replied in one word: “Graham.”

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