By Shrikant Shankar/IBNS
Almost six weeks after Michael Nobbs failed as coach of the Indian men's team at the London Olympics, another Australian will be under the scanner as the women's team headed for the Champions Challenge 1 in Dublin. Neil Hawgood, who played for Australia as a left-winger from 1985 to 1991, is the new boss of the women's team, captained by Ritu Rani. Before flying out in the wee hours of Thursday, Hawgood spoke on his new assignment as India seek to grab a direct entry into the 2014 Champions Trophy and of course, the 2016 Rio Olympics. Excerpts:
Shrikant Shankar: What are your expectations from the upcoming Champions Challenge 1 in Dublin?
Neil Hawgood: There are little expectations rather than big expectations like winning the tournament because I have only been with the team for six weeks. What we have tried to do in those six weeks is train the girls up for the intensity of an international match considering they have not played an international match for over five months. Trying to get them to that level of training has been my first goal. My expectations are that I want us to be able to compete against four teams (Australia, South Africa, US and Belgium) who were at the London Olympics. We need to find out where we sit in the world against them.
SS: The winner of the tournament will qualify for the Champions Trophy in 2014. Do you think India can qualify?
NH: See we are currently ranked 12th, while Australia are the top team who are ranked 6th in the world, so it is going to be a tight one. Getting to the Champions Trophy in 2014 would be a bonus.
SS: What are your plans for women's hockey in India and how can the team improve over the next few years?
NH: My long term plan is to make India the best team in Asia. I think China are currently the highest ranked Asian team and sixth in the world. If we can do that we will get close to the top six in the world.
SS: Michael Nobbs had a disastrous time during the London Olympics. Can you better Nobbs' record with Indian hockey?
NW: Picking on one tournament is pretty hard to say that it actually didn't work. The Indian team created many chances to win most games in the London Olympics. There is more in it than just the bottom line results, as much as we like results. I think Nobbs created enough chances as a coach, but the forwards didn't score enough goals. There was some level of success there with the men's team in the Olympics. So to generalise that Australians don't have success in India is not right, although everyone is allowed their opinion. The women's team has a lot of development to do. I'm not going to radically change what they do. I'm just going to modify what they do because 70-80 per cent of what they do is quite good. I'm not trying to change the world upside-down.
SS: Where all do you think India can improve in their overall game?
NG: The women's team has been able to create chances, but they haven't been able to last. They have started slowly or started quickly and finished slowly. We are trying to create an atmosphere where no matter if it is the first minute, the 30th minute or the 70th minute, we are playing at the same level.
SS: Have you identified who will be the key players in the Indian team?
NG: What I'm trying to do is sit down and say I don't have key players. The thing about key players is that the opposition can shut the key players down. We want everybody to play a part, so no matter what position they are playing in, it is key to us being successful. We have got to encourage that we have got 16 key players and each one is unique and what they do should be difficult for the opposition to deal with.
SS: Do you think qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics is a realistic goal for India?
NG: Yes, without a doubt. I think they are better than where they sit in the women's rankings. As I said before, if we are the best team in Asia it gives us that opportunity to pay in the Rio Olympics. Even before that we have big tournaments coming up like the World Cup and Commonwealth Games, so we are looking forward to that as well.
Hawgood wants Indian girls to be Asia's best
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