It is not easy to endorse the optimism of Roelant Oltmans about India’s chances in the forthcoming hockey Asia Cup. As the chief coach and motivator, the Dutchman, speaks the language he ought to. He is under tremendous pressure; his role unenviable at this juncture.
A pragmatic evaluation of the 18-member squad however clearly accentuates the apprehensions over India ascending the top of the podium, a must status to be in the next World Cup at The Hague.
Crippled by injuries to the top strikers — Akshadeep, Gurvinder Singh Chandi, Danish Mujtaba and S.S. Sunil — the frontline which usually determines the outcome of a match is in disarray and had to be recast in a compelling exercise amounting to be a gamble.
At best, it is now a motley assemblage of the left overs to carry out the task. While a careful study needs to be done why the injury list is getting enlarged each passing day, it is disheartening to face the reality that the best forwards are rendered hors de combat for the most significant event before the World Cup.
A cursory glance at the combination to battle it out at Ipoh from August 24 to September 1 shows an enormous bulge in the defence headed by the inimitable Sardar Singh.
That as many as 11 are to be seen as defenders illustrates this fact. Obviously, the team leans on the penalty corner strikers, Ravinderpal Singh and Raghunath.
Notwithstanding the special focus on goal-keeping with a new coach roped in recently, the selectors could not replace the ageing P. T. Rao and the unpredictable Sreejesh. The limitations bring out a grave concern in this vital area.
The expertise of Birendra Lakra, the enterprise of Kothajit Singh and the efficiency of Uthappa should provide the succour to the all round proficiency of Sardar Singh. The role of Raghunath and Ravinderpal Singh in this layer will go a long way for smothering the pace and punch of the rival attacks.
A heartening feature is the youth content whose efficacy at this point remains in the realm of a guess. The attention will be riveted on the show of the Thimmiahs, Nithin and Nikhin, Malak Singh and Mandeep.
At a time when Asian hockey is perceptibly losing its identity with not a single country gaining a place in the World Cup till now, the Asia Cup assumes the contours of lottery with eight teams chasing one spot. Poignantly, the scenario is grim for Pakistan and India as one of them faces the prospect of staying out of the World Cup for the first time since the launch in 1971.
Without sounding pessimistic it must be portrayed that a failure to be part of the next World Cup will be tremendous embarrassment for India. The consequences could bring about the same tumult and convulsions that shook the nation after India missed the berth for the 1988 Olympics at Beijing.
India is approaching the Asia Cup praying for luck than anything. That is indisputable.