Placed sixth in the Hockey World League (HWL), the Indian hockey squad belied the optimism generated before the departure for Rotterdam.
A podium finish was the target to be eligible for the World Cup at The Hague in 2014. But what turned out eventually dismayed everyone. Every persisting weakness was noticeable.
Poor goalkeeping, inconsistent and incompetent defence, appalling conversion of penalty corners, abominable recovery after an attack and inaccuracy at the finish, all plagued the team.
It made many wonder whether the foreign coaches — there are a handful now — have indeed grasped the elementary errors that afflict our players.
Incomprehensible too was the format, which looked neither Asian nor European nor Australian. It appeared an amalgam of the frailties contained in all the systems.
The time has come to realise that appointing foreign coaches, whatever their calibre and credentials, is no panacea. The results obtained in recent years under the imported coaches are pathetic.
Nothing illustrates this more than the bottom place in the Olympics of 2012.
At Rotterdam, India struggled against Ireland to secure a draw, went down to the Dutch and then shared points with the Kiwis. A 5-1 thrashing against the Aussies knocked the team out of the reckoning.
Some commentators went to the extent of evaluating the chances for the World if the team were to finish fifth. A complex calculation made it look possible.
Victory against France raised hopes but Spain shut the door pushing India to the sixth place.
Now the only route to The Hague is a win in the next Asia Cup at Ipoh in August/September. Given India’s history in a must-win situation, a title triumph remains a distant dream.
The fear that India may miss the next World Cup for the first time since inception is not imaginary.
Who among the players, coaches and administrators will take the blame if we are to be confronted with such a reality?
A critical evaluation is essential. The work by foreign coaches must be analysed minutely. A thorough study is required to decipher whether the system adopted is suitable for the Indian players.
There is no denying a marginal improvement in physical fitness. But overall the team is woefully deficient in other areas to match the speed and skill of the top ranked rivals.
At Rotterdam it was a combined failure of the seniors and juniors. Neither Michael Nobbs nor Roelant Oltmans has succeeded in galvanising the players into something more refreshing.
It is also true that the choice for coaches is limited to a small pool of players. This is due to the existence of two federations. The players are scattered across.
Indian hockey is in the grip of administrative paralysis.
It began when the IOA, headed by Suresh Kalmadi, suspended the IHF and created Hockey India in 2008. The cascading effect lingers. Its imprint is visible in the degeneration of performances in major competitions.
A well-structured administration without factions is the best solution. Enlarging the presence of foreign coaches can only be cosmetic.