Average Junior Hockey World Cup outing for India – colts need stable coaching structure and more exposure | Hockey News


BHUBANESWAR: When India kept a clean sheet to beat Belgium 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the Junior Men’s Hockey World Cup, Graham Reid’s fingerprints on the defensive structure were the hallmark of that showing. Parachuting the senior-team coach to mentor the juniors for the event appeared to be a masterstroke. But as expectations of the defending champions owning the tournament from thereon began to multiply, a myriad of mistakes snowballed into a frustrating eventual final result, which saw India finish fourth, after yet another shock defeat to France.
This in no way means that the coach is to be blamed, especially someone like Reid, who was almost air-dropped for a rescue mission. On the contrary, the manner of India’s defeats against Germany in the semifinal (2-4) and on Sunday against France (1-3) in the bronze-medal playoff force us to ask a pointed question: What was the state of the players in terms of learnings and standards before Hockey India asked Reid to take the coach’s seat for the tournament?
It may remain an unanswered question, but repeating the same mistakes for three consecutive games have now raised serious doubts over the transition that will happen after the 2024 Olympics.
But what was heartening to see is that raw talent exists.

PIC Credit: @TheHockeyIndia Twitter handle

An Uttam Singh may completely prove doubters wrong over the next two years, an Araijeet Singh Hundal may become the next-gen hero, a Sharda Nand Tiwari may make us eat our words. It can happen and the talent of this lot can’t be doubted, but when the same mistakes are repeated, the ability to process information and situations has to be questioned. That’s what separates good players from great players.
The two matches against France, thus, become classic examples.
The bronze-medal playoff was India’s rematch against the French team. Both were in the same pool, where France stunned the hosts with a 5-4 win in their tournament opener. India were expected to have learnt from that before taking the pitch on Sunday. To the team’s credit, they must have analysed videos and done their homework. But once on the pitch, it seemed like the players caught examination fever.
The indecisive nature of India’s play, which Reid pointed at while talking to the media after the quarterfinal as well as the semis, didn’t leave the system; and it hurt.
France earned 14 penalty corners, exposing India’s defence. Skipper Timothee Clement scored another hat-trick, like in the earlier game against the Indians, which means penalty-corner defence was still clueless about his drag-flicks.
The hosts looked to be clawing back when Sudeep Chirmako cut France’s lead to 2-1 in the third quarter, but Clement’s third goal five minutes later brought back the cushion the French needed to close the game at 3-1 and win bronze.

PIC Credit: @TheHockeyIndia Twitter handle

“It takes two years for a coach to know and correct the player,” Jude Felix, former India international and ex-coach of India juniors, said talking to Timesofindia.com.
“(The coach notes) what are their mistakes…and correct those periodically…That’s how after two years you get the best (out of a player), but only after two years.”
Felix was put at the helm of affairs in India’s junior men’s set-up as coach in August 2017, before being removed in June 2019 following India’s poor show in the eight-nation tournament in Madrid, where the team finished sixth in the final standings.
After that BJ Kariappa had remained in charge, until being asked to take the back seat at the Junior World Cup for Graham Reid, the senior men’s coach.
“This team was ready to play the World Cup in 2019,” said Felix. “Look at the scores we had. We beat Australia by four goals (5-1) in the Sultan of Johor Cup and we beat New Zealand by six goals (8-2). We lost in the final to a Great Britain team that was fantastic, a very close margin (1-2).”
Kariappa, who took over as head coach from Felix, has been with the junior team since 2017.

PIC Credit: @TheHockeyIndia Twitter handle

“Reid is not a magician,” said Felix. “It’s a process, and I can tell you in 2019 this team was ready to play the World Cup. What happened from 2019 to now, that you have to ask the coaches and whoever is incharge.”
Nobody denies the fact that these players hadn’t played for two years as part of the junior team and were not in sync or fully used to each other’s playing styles — unlike the 2016 champions that had played the Hockey India League (HIL) and were with coach Harendra Singh for three years before playing the Junior World Cup.
In fact, that comparison is the biggest takeaway of the tournament.
Whether the HIL returns or not is a separate story, but the effect it had on improving the quality of the 2016 Junior World Cup winners can’t be overlooked or forgotten.
On those lines, this batch needs a stable coaching structure to get used to, and matches on the roster for more exposure.
The talent is clearly there, but it needs to be harnessed better.


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