It`s a world cup year and the Indian hockey fraternity will be focussing on what transpires in Hague. Last time India won a world title, playing their national sport, was way back in 1975. How India fare at the upcoming FIH World Cup in the Netherlands, will help gauge the status, standard of the game and possible future prospects in the country.
In the final of the 1975 World Cup, playing against the arch-rivals Pakistan in Kuala Lumpur, under Ashok Kumar, Indians relived the magic that`s hockey. Unluckily for India, it was India`s only final and of course the only title. Since then, the scenario with Indian hockey has been a rather bleak one. It`s a different matter that, in the previous two editions, India finish third (1971) and second (1973).
Now, it doesn`t even look ludicrous to see India occupying the lower rungs in the ranking. The bottom line is: India – which has produced umpteen numbers of legends like Dhyan Chand, Roop Singh and Leslie Claudius, seem to have forgotten how to play hockey.
But everything is not lost. India can still spring a surprise or two, as said by performance director Roelant Oltmans. The former Dutch coach reportedly said that “if we (India) are able to make sure we don’t crack in the final phase of the game and score goals rather than conceding like we have done in the past, we are capable of springing a surprise.”
What needs to be seen is how tough a challenge is this world cup campaign for the team, considering the fact that in the previous three editions, India finished 8th, 11th, and 10th . The eighth place finish in 2010 was an improvement, thanks to a boisterous home support in Delhi. In both the 2006 and 2002 editions, India had lost five games each. In the presence of such statistics, India coach Terry Walsh could only aim for a top-eight finish. Kudos to him for staying grounded.
India, ranked eighth for the 31 May – 15 June event, are in Group A with the likes of Australia (top ranked), Spain (10), Belgium (5), England (4) and Malaysia (13). The other group comprises Germany (2), host Netherlands (3), New Zealand (6), South Korea (7), Argentina (11) and South Africa (12).
Despite all the good wishes, pep talks – including one from Sachin Tendulkar, and inspirations from known and unknown corners, it will still be a huge task for the Sardar Singh-led team to finish as a top two team in the group and qualify for the next round, which is a direct semi-final shoot-out. Because, the gap between the Indian team and the rest of the world, to be precise with the top teams, is so big that mere sweating will not help. Unlike the age old flickery which many of the Indians think is the ultimate touch of greatness, present day hockey is played in an altogether different context, mainly focusing on astute team-work, super-fitness and flexibility.
However, according to Oltmans, the team has gone through the rigours and is eager to give their best shot. “Our preparation was up to the mark. The team is really gelling well. We made a lot of progress for sure but it is important for us to find out how close we are to the top teams,” he said. And everybody knows Indian hockey players are a skilled lot. But mere jugglery in not enough to win trophies.
One positive aspect of participating in a world event is that it will help the team set realistic targets and measure the strengths and weaknesses. Taking the right step, Hockey India have opted to send a youthful team. Irrespective of how they perform in the Kyocera Stadium in the Hague, they will return an experienced lot. And with a willing body back home, Indian hockey can hope to rule the world once again.
Goalkeepers: P.R. Sreejesh, Harjot Singh.
Defenders: Gurbaj Singh, Rupinderpal Singh (vice-captain), V.R. Raghunath, Birendra Lakra, Kh. Kothajit Singh, Manpreet Singh.
Midfielders: Sardar Singh (captain), S.K. Uthappa, Dharamvir Singh, Jasjit Singh, Chinglensana Singh.
Forwards: S.V. Sunil, Ramandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Nikkin Thimmaiah, Mandeep Singh.
Standbys: Gurpreet Singh (goalkeeper), Vikram Kanth, Gurinder Singh (defenders), Danish Mujtaba, Devindar Walmiki (midfielders), Lalit Upadhyay, and Yuvraj Walmiki (forwards)