New Delhi:For a team long considered the underdog in women's hockey, Azerbaijan certainly don't look like they are ranked below India when it comes to world rankings.
At least not during the four nation invitational tournament that India barely managed to win on Wednesday.
The credit for that goes to Tahir Zaman who has been putting his experience as a former Olympian to good use.
He has played in three Olympics and been a part of a world cup winning team for Pakistan, and now he is coaching the women's team of Azerbaijan.
But this being Tahir Zaman, he has already had a fair bit of success in the one year that he's been there.
Tahir Zaman needs the services of an interpreter to communicate with these girls, but the tactical awareness and hockey skills that's he has taught the Azerbaijan women's team are all his own.
The former Pakistan Olympian was sent to coach the central Asian team by the International Hockey Federation in 12 months.
Azerbaijan have already risen four places in the world rankings to 15. But it wasn't the restricted talent pool or presence of 40 year olds in the team that he found hardest to deal with.
"Biggest challenge was that I was coaching ladies team. You have to understand a woman's characteristic, easier to do that with a wife than a player. So, it took me about 6-8 months just doing that," said Tahir Zaman, Coach, Azerbaijan Women's Hockey Team.
The President of Azerbaijan is a huge hockey fan, which Zaman says helps him enormously. He has a free hand in choosing his team, the camps and the tournaments they play and it is showing in their performances.
While India limped into the finals of this invitational tournament thanks to two draws and a win, Azerbaijan's two wins and a draw were far more convincing, even though they lost to India in the final.
That's also thanks to Zaman's policy of bringing in players from other countries to play club level hockey in Azerbaijan in an effort to improve overall standards.
In fact earlier this year, he had also selected five girls from India for a short stint.
"There is a lot of talent in womens hockey. but again that talent willl be more useful if nurtured, refined carefully, otherwise its of no use," said Tahir Zaman.
Not that India doesn't have the talent, but according to Tahir Zaman, it is only the lack of a proper coaching structure in the sub-continent that separates India and Pakistan from the rest of the world.
"We have that potential. We take it as granted, we don't give it time, we assume that if we have played three Olympics we can be a good coach, but that is not the right approach," said Zaman.
Zaman still has a year to go with the Azeri girls, and he said that the experience has enthused him enough to try coaching the Pakistan women's team now. Maybe the Indians should also be listening.