The Indian hockey team are well over their post-Olympic qualifier-winning hangover and currently undergoing a reality check as they gear up to face three of the world’s top hockey playing nations — Australia (ranked No 1), Germany (2), Great Britain (4) — in an Olympic test event at the London Olympic Park’s Riverbank Arena (May 2-6).
Coach Michael Nobbs has a whole lot of factors going against him and his boys, like the cold British weather and the slower blue-pink turf besides of course the much higher ranked opposition. However, the Australian is confident Team India (ranked 10) will pick up valuable tips from this tournament and carry it into the all-important Games beginning on July 27. Nobbs spoke to MiD DAY on the eve of India’s match against world champions Australia (May 3 vs GBR, May 5 vs Ger).
With just about three months for the Olympics, how is the Indian team shaping up?
It’s shaping up well, but we are in need of match practice against the top teams as we are a fair way off this level yet. We are good against our level but they (Australia, Germany Great Britain) are really very good. They tend to play a lot of games against each other and not too many against lower ranked teams. The reason is that if you play lower ranked teams, they tend to get better while you end up teaching them the standard they need to get to. I have been part of this system, so I know.
What are the areas that you think still need a little sharpening?
We need to get physically tougher as these teams are very good teams and very tough. We have the skill but physically we need to incorporate this style into our style of play.
To what extent will the weather conditions impact the Indian team?
It’s hard to tell the actual impact it will have on the team but this is typical English weather… cold, wet and horrible.
What are your impressions of the new blue-pink astro playing surface on which Olympic matches will be conducted too?
We need to get used to this turf. We are struggling a lot trying to get used to the new playing surface. We played Australia in a practice match and they thumped us (12-1). Of course they did play their entire squad of 24 players against us. But we made a lot of ball handling errors. That’s something we don’t usually do, so it was a bit frustrating but it’s all a good lesson as long as we learn from it.
How significant will the results of this four-nation tournament be considering it’s the same playing surface on which the Olympics will be played soon?
The results of this tournament are of no consequence as most teams will be hiding some important things. They will be using this tournament only as another chance to play on this turf and at the Olympic venue. It’s important for us too to look at the facilities and how this will impact us.
Do you think teams like Australia and Germany will play this tournament in full steam or will they prefer to be experimental?
Teams like Australia, Germany and all the other top teams always play at full steam, but tactically they will hide a lot of things that they consider important. They will try and get a psychological edge by winning but at the end of the day, it really won’t matter as nobody will remember these matches in another couple of months, nor will they have any impact on the Olympic results. The Olympics is the ultimate goal and not this tournament.