Indian colts have surprised their opponents with their speed and ability to switch positions

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The Indian juniors were exposed to modern hockey from their early days and that seems to be making all the difference. File photo

Lucknow: After India’s dismantling of England, their toughest rival in the pool, manager Roelant Oltmans, usually very reserved with his emotions, looked noticeably happy. He was “impressed” with the team’s performance, and had added, “I am enjoying it here, I love to watch these boys play,” while patting captain Harjeet Singh on the back.

The way this team is playing would make any manager happy; but Oltmans, the coach of the senior team, will be particularly delighted; though he has avoided any question about the future, specifically the 2020 Olympics.

Even though Oltmans is officially the manager, there is no doubt that he is one of the brains behind this team — the Dutchman has been working with this group for the last three years; and the tactics he has employed in the matches here, he has not shown with the senior team.

The most obvious difference is the continuous shifting of positions. Rotation of players and overlapping runs are common with the top teams, and are used to break down the opposition’s defence. To give a common example from the current tournament, there were many occasions when a defender, be it Harmanpreet Singh or Varun Kumar, climbed up to the position of a right winger and the whole team shifted behind him.

Oltmans might be using these tactics just to confuse the other teams before the knockout matches, but the fact that he can, augurs well for the future.

The senior team shows this flexibility on rare occasions. It’s no secret that all-rounders have been missing from the previous teams. Even in the current senior team, only Manpreet Singh can be utilised in different positions. It forces the team to play in a more rigid structure.

However, during the junior team’s three matches here, the roles of the players have been very fluid. The juniors have looked comfortable playing this system, which showcases that they have the tactical knowhow and the all-round skills to pull it off.

The reason for this difference between the junior and senior teams is that these juniors have been brought up playing the modern game from an earlier age. India adopted the modern system around five years ago and the pool for the senior team was widened by adding junior players. While the senior players were already set in their ways, the juniors could be moulded. And when Oltmans came in, hired as high performance director, he started overseeing the junior team’s training programme. Unlike their predecessors, these players have been made to work on their defensive and attacking skills, irrespective of the position.

The revival of Punjab, which adopted the modern training system over 10 years ago, has played a big role in this team’s success. The ten players from the state have been playing together for many years.

India’s speed

The long years together have showed on the ground in the form of great understanding, which is reason for the incredible pace at which this team plays.

That’s the other major feature that sets this team apart from the seniors. In today’s hockey, which has become very compact, defences are broken by moving the ball at a fast pace to find the other team out of position. Now, stopping has been replaced by receiving on the move followed by quick release of the ball, and a player holding on to the ball is considered criminal.

This team is among the quickest when it comes to rotation of the ball; and when the boys get into their rhythm, they bamboozle the opponents with their small one-two passes. These skills were also imbibed into these players at a younger age, which has made all the difference.

The Tribune

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