Mumbai: They are a part of it but renowned coaches Ric Charlesworth and Roelant Oltmans differ about Hockey India League's (HIL) benefits in the struggling host country which finished 12th at the London Olympic Games.
Four-time Olympian and former Australia skipper Charlesworth, the coach of the fifth-placed Mumbai Magicians, is not sure whether it would help Indian hockey as HIL. "I don`t know. It's hard to say. The young players would get experience, but this is not like international hockey," said Charlesworth who guided the Australian men`s team to the titles in the 2010 World Cup, Champions Trophy and Commonwealth Games.
On the other hand, his counterpart with the Uttar Pradesh Wizards, celebrated Dutch coach Oltmans, sung praises about the USD-2-million-prize-money league saying it would certainly uplift Indian hockey. "One of the reasons for this league is for the improvement of Indian hockey. I am not saying too much about it, as you know, until after the league when I will face my new job [as technical director of the Indian men's team].
"The players will learn a lot and that`s very important for the future of Indian hockey," said the 58-year-old Oltmans, who was the coach when the Netherlands won the men`s hockey gold in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. "Everyone in India should be really proud about this fantastic league. These matches are really of international standards and that is really good for everyone.
"[In HIL] Young players are playing with top players, every team has top players...Indians as well as foreigners, and I think it's tough. We have made 22 journeys, 22 flights. "We [will] have 14 matches in four and a half weeks, so you can imagine what that means. Still these players are able to put up a performance like this today; I am proud of them," said Oltmans after his side knocked out Mumbai with a 1-0 victory.
On Tuesday, Charlesworth, while saying that HIL cannot be replicated in any other country, suggested a southern hemisphere league involving teams from subcontinental rivals India, Pakistan, besides fellow-Asian country Malaysia along with Australia and New Zealand. "I don`t think it can be like this. Other countries have their own leagues. I would like to see a southern Australian league - India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand - or the Indian Ocean league, if you like to call it, with international teams or a couple of teams from each [of these] countries. That's an interesting prospect," Charlesworth said.
"But I don't think you would get a league like this [HIL] anywhere else. I think India is a unique environment with its capacity to support something like this. In our country there are other games much bigger than this [hockey]. We will get drowned out by them," added the Australian, who had coached his country's women's outfit successfully in two World Cups and as many gold medals in the Olympics.
His team member and countryman Mathew Swann agreed. "I do agree [with the concept of the five-nation league] in lifting the standard of hockey in the southern hemisphere," said Swann.
Talking about his team's dismal show which saw it lose 10 out of 11 games played so far to get knocked out of the semi-final reckoning, Charlesworth said his top strikers Glenn Turner and Saari Faisal have not delivered, which was hugely disappointing. "We scored 20 goals and 16 of them have been corners. It's clear we haven't finished well up front. We have two very good strikers Turner and Faisal, international goal scorers, who haven't scored any goals yet. That's disappointing and at the other end I don't think we have played as well as we could.
Summing up further he said, "We have had 30 goals scored against us, 20 of them in my opinion were savable. We haven't done well in that area, that's something which is disappointing."
"I am not relieved [that it has ended] but a little disappointed. We have not played well enough, that's pretty clear. We got a good start, made a save on the line. We were pretty much in control for a lot of the game but they got a corner against one of our players and scored. That was sloppy," he added about Tuesday's 0-1 loss to UP.
Oltmans was pleased that his team won but felt they should have scored more goals. "In today's match there was only one team that deserved to win. The only [disappointing] thing is so far we don't close the game early enough. Today we had enough chances to score may be 2-3-4 goals even but we missed a penalty stroke, missed some corners and a few real good open chances. We have to improve."
"The good thing is we did not give away so much. We conceded only two penalty corners, one in the first minute and one in the last. In between our defence was very well organised. We knew we had to at least draw but we came here to win and get at least 5 points. There are some areas we have to improve," Oltmans said.
Looking ahead he said, "We have a couple of days now. Saturday [semis at Ranchi] is the next important match. We have a match on Thursday [last league game against Delhi Waveriders], I know that, but the real important one is on Saturday. Our results have been up and down. I am happy to be in the semis and we are looking forward to play any team. We know it's a tough competition and teams are very close.
Talking about his team`s overall display, Oltmans insisted that executing plans was important rather than focusing on end results. "It's about the process leading to performance. I keep telling players... 'don't think about the result but only about the plan and its execution and stick to that whatever happens in the game'.
"That`s a learning process for them because sometimes when you are 1-0 down with five-six minutes left, they lose their heads and we are 2-0 down. You have enough time to change things [when down 1-0] and that`s what you have to learn. I am also curious to see if we are unable to perform at a consistent level. I would like to see improvement in the goal-scoring area as we could have scored four goals, though we scored one at the beginning of the game."
Oltmans said the strikers need to be extra sharp in the league as the teams have some excellent goalkeepers. "The opponents have some really good goalies as well, [Jaap] Stockmann in Punjab [Warriors], [Nicolas] Jacobi [Delhi Waveriders]; he is a really good goalkeeper. So when you get your chances, you really need to be like a knife in the deep."
He praised Indian youngsters Pradeep Mor and Harbir Singh as ones who have shown a lot of improvement. "From our team, Pradeep Mor has taken huge steps and difficult for him as he doesn't speak English; I use Tushar Khandekar as translator. Harbir Singh, who has showed in every match he can play at different positions, has really great potential from my point of view."
Defending the strange rule that even a loss could get a team a point if the defeat is not by more than two goals, Oltmans said this helped sustain interest until the last phase of the round robin. "Till the 11th game all teams had a chance which was important for spectators and TV viewers. Obviously there would be discussions after the league," he said.