Winning the Super Six Championship has turned the spotlight yet again on the IOB team. Here’s what the players and coach say about their excellent track record

Excellence is a luxury only those who are consistently brilliant can afford. The Indian Overseas Bank (IOB) hockey team — that won the CHA Super Six hockey league championship for the third year in a row recently — has found itself in that space more often than not. “In fact, barring two occasions (in 2005 and ’09, when the side finished second) we have won all the league titles between 1998 and 2013,” says M. Arif Ahmed Farhath, IOB’s coach and manager.

Claim to fame

Few would grudge IOB’s claim to being an all-time great side in the Chennai league. It also made it to the final of the MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup this year. Arif, who’s coached the team from 2004, while also being the manager from 1996, notes that IOB has provided good facilities for its players. “It’s the professional approach that has taken us this far. We have a very systematic training programme and our players hit the gym regularly. Fitness is our strength. Once a player represents the country, he gets out-of-turn promotions. Whenever we ask for recruitment, our management obliges. Our sports board has been very encouraging.”

Cream of talent

IOB’s strategy of stacking up the team with “the cream of talent” has been rewarded handsomely. “We recruit players who are part of the junior or senior National teams. There is a preference for boys from the South if they have represented the country. Top players such as Rupinder Pal Singh, P. R. Sreejesh, Manpreet Singh (who is leading the Indian team in the Asian Champions Trophy) are part of the IOB roster.”

The team also ensures that guest players are given sufficient opportunities to step up to the plate. “It’s a big setback when our key players are away. But we get on board the best university-level and state-level players. If they play well, we recruit them. Shanmugam, who was a revelation this year, began as a guest player before he was recruited.”

Discipline, experience

Olympian Adam Sinclair, a senior player in the side, feels discipline and experience have contributed in equal measure to IOB’s success. “Almost everyone in the team plays at the highest level. Moreover, being a professional unit, we train everyday regardless of whether there are tournaments or not. But we don’t play enough all-India tournaments. Like IOC and BPCL, we need to play such tournaments every month,” says the 29-year-old, who finished as the second-highest scorer in this year’s league (12 goals) behind Vinod Rayer (14).

K. H. Shan, who was named the best goalkeeper of the league, lauds his seniors for creating a calm team environment. “Being such a quality team, we were desperate to win the league.” Captain V. Muthuselvan echoes Shan’s sentiments. “We expressed ourselves very well. There’s no substitute for quality players and regular practice.”

A former Tamil Nadu forward, the 50-year-old Arif has been associated with IOB since 1986, when he first played for the team. “Coaching a bunch of such talented players is an absolute pleasure. When the team is well-knit, results automatically fall in place.”