As a member of the coaching staff for Australia and Netherlands, Graham Reid has seen the Indian men's hockey team impress in opening stages, but falter in knockout games at big international events over the last three years. It happened in England, the Netherlands and then at home against the Dutch in December.
In charge of India now, Reid believes this has more to do with the open nature of the men's game than anything inherently wrong with Indian hockey.
"This is what I said after Rio, with Australia [Reid was in charge of Australia, who lost 4-0 to Netherlands in the quarterfinals]. You're going to expect these sort of things at tournaments where quarterfinals and semifinals are one-off games," he tells ESPN. "The gap in the men's game has shortened so much, that anyone in the top 12-14 teams can beat someone else. We see it in the football World Cup all the time, and we have to start understanding that this is sport."
Reid also believes that teams can get distracted when they start worrying about the outcomes in big games, something he hopes to set right in time for the Series Finals in Bhubaneswar, where India go in as the favourites to win and seal a spot in the Olympic qualifiers later in the year. "As coaches, what we're trying to do is to bring the players back to the process of what we need to do. We need to tackle, to shoot, to trap -- the simple things," he says. "As soon as you start to worry about the outcomes, that's when things go sour. The result will come if the process is right, and I know it's an old adage and a cliché, but that's because it's true."
Reid got the India job after the sudden sacking of Harendra Singh in January and has only seen his team in action on the recent Australia tour. India did well against Western Australia and Australia A, but lost two matches, 4-0 and 5-2, against the main Australian team. He believes the lessons handed out by the hosts, who are ranked second, would be valuable going into the tournament in Bhubaneswar.
"For me, it was a really good opportunity to have a look at the team, but just as important is that we understand where we are in the process," he says of facing an opposition in second place in the eight-team Pro League this year. "What it has done is given us a sharp focus on what we need to do to get better. Things like strong receiving, tackling, defensive work, goal finishing. To me that was a valuable tool for us to say that these are the sort of teams we need to compete with. I think the players understand why we need to be stronger on the ball."
The squad selected for the Series Finals has a strong slant towards players from Punjab and Haryana -- 13 of the 18 players are either from or play a bulk of their hockey in the two states - but Reid emphasises he has come in with "fresh eyes" and is just trying to be as "honest" as possible in his appraisal of the players.
"Look, I wouldn't have known where a lot of the players came from. What I do know is that at particular times, things go in cycles within teams," he says. "For instance, Australian teams sometimes came primarily from New South Wales, and suddenly over the next few years, along came Western Australia.
"When you are trying to mould a team, the team is about connections, and that can help, of course."
As the top-ranked team in Bhubaneswar, India would be expected to win all their matches and win the Series Finals in style, but Reid wants his team to treat each match like a knockout game. "Our first game will be against Russia, but as far as I am concerned, we will treat it just as if we are playing Holland or Australia," he says. "We'll focus on Russia, then on Poland and then on Uzbekistan. You can't worry about what's going to happen.
"You can't, for example, control the weather. You can't control the umpires. What you can control is how hard you work, your motivation levels, and your skills. I am going to be taking every single quarter, every single game as it comes. We'll prepare for each of those games as if it's a quarterfinal or a semifinal. And then whatever happens, happens."