With a depleted forwardline, a defence known for its vulnerability and a flock of youngsters, High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans is under pressure as the Indian team prepares for the Asia Cup, starting in Ipoh (Malaysia) from August 24.
But the Dutchman is a past master in handling pressure. “I have done it for (Dutch club) Blomendaal. I had to prepare the team for the European championship in six weeks and it won.
“They also wanted a new coach,” a smiling Oltmans told the mediapersons on the sidelines of the National camp at the National Stadium here on Thursday.
Oltmans was protective of the team loaded with inexperience. “They do not feel any pressure any more. There is one person who takes the pressure. I take the pressure. They should play hockey the best possible way.”
Asked about injury-affected forwardline, Oltmans said, “They are young. That does not mean they are not good.”
He said the team had been focusing on the defence too. “Defence, for me, is 10 defenders and one goalkeeper. We are working hard on the structure of the defence and trying to improve it.”
Ace goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh acknowledged that the emphasis was on improving the defensive skills. “We are practising man-to-man marking, what is everybody’s role, what is my role and penalty corner defence etc.”
Sreejesh said the team was adjusting to the change in the style of play in the post-Michael Nobbs period. “Oltmans’s style is similar to that of the European style Jose Brasa used to profess. The experienced players have some idea about it.
The youngsters have been told about it. Theoretically, they have an idea. They have to execute it on the ground.”
Sreejesh defended his 34-year-old mate under the bar, P.T. Rao. “He has a lot of experience at the domestic level. Like old wine, goalkeepers become better with years.”
Instead of pressurising the team to win the Aisa Cup in order to qualify for the World Cup, Oltmans, with all seriousness, said that he was thinking about India’s first engagement against Oman. “That is the way a tournament should be approached.”
Sreejesh has learnt the lesson well. “We are not thinking about winning or losing. We are thinking about each opponent and how to tackle it.”
While admitting that the team was bound to feel the absence of players like Danish Mujtaba and Gurvinder Singh Chandi, captain Sardar Singh said, “Some of us, who played in 2008 and could not qualify for the Olympics, know how it feels (to miss out on a big event). We have faith in our hard work.”