Nobbs puts shine back in Indian hockey

The Indian men’s hockey team under Australian coach Michael Nobbs seems to have turned the corner by qualifying in style for the London Olympics. This comes as a relief following the debacle of 2008, when India for the first time since 1928 failed to make it to an Olympic game.

In a remarkable change of fortunes, the Indians won all six matches and totaled 44 goals at the Olympic qualifiers, at an average of over seven goals a match. They earned their ticket to London with a masterclass against France. The former hockey powerhouse thrashed France with an 8-1 win. Taking over a team tormented by politics and inconsistency, Nobbs seems to have had a positive effect on the team. Now, the question that everyone is asking, “Will this Australian coach be able to revive the sagging spirits of Indian hockey?”

His strategy of replacing senior team members with younger legs received criticism. Sticking to his guns, Nobbs played an active role in picking his squad. His plan worked and the Indian team has proved itself once again after the low of 2008.If anyone had a doubt about the fitness levels of the team, it was put to rest at the Olympic qualifiers. Under physio David John, the team’s fitness levels have improved considerably.

The Indian attack was in good stead in the qualifiers. Sunil displayed great running while the seasoned players like Tushar Khandker and Shivendra Singh put a shine on the game. Against the French, Sreejesh excelled while Uthappa and Kothajit’s prowess on the mid-field could not be ignored. Every dribble and every run on the field looked planned.

But these positives were accompanied by negatives as well.

Defence is India’s Achilles heel and the Australian Olympian needs to work his magic in that area too. The rearguard passed up on as many as nine goals at the Olympic qualifiers and allowed for a lot of space on the field. The team’s speed and coordination needs massive improvement. The Indian team seems to be regaining some lost gloss under Nobbs, but there is a lot of work to be done to reach the dizzying heights of yesteryears.

– Kavitha Mhatre

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