Chandigarh: Legendary Australian striker Jamie Dwyer feels Hockey India League (HIL) has played a "big part" in the resurgence of the game in India, a country which has a rich history of eight Olympic gold medals.
"The HIL has played a big part in the recent improvement of the Indian team. They (India) missed the Olympic berth in 2008 Beijing and had touched a low, but now they are getting better. The best I have seen them play in a long time was in Australia last year where they won the historic Test series," the 35-year-old Dwyer, who is currently captaining Jaypee Punjab Warriors in HIL, told PTI here today.
Insisting that "consistency" was the biggest problem of the India team, Dwyer said things have now started to change.
"It was great for them to win the Asian Games (last year). I think it is a huge step for Indian hockey to beat teams like South Korea and Pakistan. They need to consistently beat those teams to compete with Belgium, Australia, Germany and Holland," the Australian said about India's recent performances.
Dwyer had words of praise for young midfielder Manpreet Singh.
"I think Manpreet has been the best player in India for over a year now. He is a quality player. He is a dangerous player in the midfield. He plays particularly good in HIL for Ranchi. I think he needs to play better when he plays overseas," he said.
Talking about next year's Rio Olympics, Dwyer feels it would be a tough contest but looking at their constant upward movement, one cannot rule out India's chances in the quadrennial event.
"Every game you play here (in Olympics) is really hard. There is not much difference between the top team and the bottom team. It's always very close," he said.
"India have got a chance. I am not sure who their coach is going to be and what sort of style they are going to play now, which could interrupt the team a little bit. But I think they have got a great squad and some very good players."
Meanwhile, Jaypee Punjab Warriors might have registered two wins and a draw from three games in the ongoing HIL so far, but Dwyer feels there is still lot of scope for improvement.
"First three games are always probably the toughest
because the team just gets together. We are still gelling together as a team. We are happy with the two wins and a draw but we need to make lot of improvement in our game if we are serious about winning the title," Dwyer said.
Punjab Warriors drew their opening game against Dabang Mumbai and notched up back-to-back wins at their home turf in Mohali against Kalinga Lancers and Uttar Pradesh Wizards.
Dwyer admitted that the Uttar Pradesh Wizards dominated for a good part of the game yesterday.
"Yeah, they had the ball possession for long periods, thats for sure. Like I said it could have been fatigue because we played in Mumbai, then we travelled to Mohali and played back-to-back games. But at the end of the day we got a win and I rather play bad and win than play good and lose."
Dwyer also said that the youngsters were gaining a lot of exposure by rubbing shoulders with senior Indian and international players in the HIL.
"They are gaining a lot. We try to give them as much experience and knowledge as we possibly can. They are listening and learning a lot, that's for sure. In our team we have got lot of experience and we have got a great balance. There is good chemistry in the team. Hopefully, that reflects on to the field. I know everyone's learning, I am learning still, the younger guys are learning," he said.
The Australian legend also feels that playing along side players from India and other countries helps one to have a better insight into each other's strengths and weaknesses.
"Definitely, I am used to that because I have played five years in Holland. In hockey, Australia and Holland have had a big rivalry. After playing in this league in India, I now know the strengths and weaknesses of (SV) Sunil, Sandeep (Singh), Dharamvir (Singh) and other players. I am sure they do the same," Dwyer said.
On a different note, Dwyer is also excited about the upcoming cricket World Cup to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
"Everyone back home is excited about the World Cup. Australia has a good chance. South Africa and New Zealand will also be tough teams to beat," he said.
Asked about India's chances in the cricket World Cup, he said, "India, I am not too sure. They haven't been in real good form lately. But if (Virat) Kohli fires, then who knows, the game is on. I am looking forward to watching few games".