Holding the game's administrators responsible for the team's poor show in the just-concluded Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia, former chief coach Vasudevan Bhaskaran has said that Indian hockey need fresh legs ahead of next year's Olympic qualifiers.
2009 champions and 2010 co-winners, India finished a lowly sixth out of seven teams in this year's Azlan Shah Cup and Bhaskaran said the need of the hour for the erstwhile powerhouse of world hockey is a strong bench strength.
"We have to qualify for London Olympics anyhow. We don't want to face the agony of not qualifying for the Olympics like 2008. But for that we need fresh legs in Indian hockey," Bhaskaran, who led India to its eighth and last Olympic gold in 1980 Moscow Games, said.
"When I was the chief coach the pool was almost the same and there is no big difference visible in the last five years. We don't have any dearth of talent but there is urgent need to nurture them. We need to forget the power struggle between Indian Hockey Federation and Hockey India," he said.
"People say that we missed midfielder Sardara Singh in the Azlan Shah Cup but that is not an excuse. We must have 3 or 4 players for each position. Why don't the administration try to broaden the pool?" questioned Bhaskaran, who was the coach of the national team during the 2006 World Cup.
Lauding young penalty corner specialist Rupinder Pal Singh for his impressive performance in the Azlan Shah Cup, Bhaskaran suggested zone-based tournaments to broaden the country's reserve pool in hockey.
"Rupinder Pal Singh is the find of the tournament but he would not have been in the starting line-up if Sandeep Singh was there. That is not the right process.
"We must have proper set up and zone-based tournaments. Nobody knows how the players for national camps get selected, what is the criteria. There should be more players in the trials or it should be an open trial," he said.
"(Former chief coach) Jose Brasa had also repeatedly complained about the selection process. The new coach (Harendra Singh) should concentrate on making the pool of players broader," added Bhaskaran.
He also blamed the players for lack of consistency.
"We played well in patches. We managed a draw against World champion Australia and then faltered in relatively easier games. Deep defence was pathetic," Bhaskaran insisted.
Another Olympian Mohammad Shahid, under whose captaincy India won its first gold medal at the Azlan Shah Cup, is of the view that India should avoid over experimenting.
"Every time we lose a tournament and make excuse that this was a new look team. I think we should stop experimenting before the qualifiers to be held in February 2012. We have to play London Olympics to save Indian hockey," he said.
"We must field our strongest team in every tournament and try to win. If the situation remains the same, Indian hockey will die," Shahid said.