It is not every day that an Indian hockey team is lauded for its exceptional performance. There was a time when this very outfit was a force to be reckoned with in international hockey, especially during the times when Dhyan Chand graced the sport. In recent years, India’s men’s hockey team has been a sketchy performer with occasional successes here and there. Every now and then the players have done well to raise visions of a day when the country is able to relive its glory days in this sport but have went ahead and messed it up with some indifferent display.
The recent World Hockey League, which is being organized at India itself, is no exception either. Here India has not been able to progress to the semi-finals, let alone be in the hunt for the championship. However, the team has done its fans proud with a fantastic coming-from-behind victory against Germany, which is ranked as the Numero Uno side in world hockey. The match that saw India triumph by 5-4 incidentally took place at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in New Delhi. Not many know that during the 1936 Berlin Olympics the Germans had checked if Dhyan Chand, also known as the Magician of Hockey, had applied glue to his stick. India had been behind by 3-1 at the half time and exhibited tremendous resolve to come back and defeat the Germans who landed the gold medal at London Olympics 2012.
The winning goal was netted in from a penalty corner by Rupinder Pal Singh in the dying moments of the match and this helped the team achieve a fantastic end in a very closely contested encounter. With this success India now has earned the right to take on Belgium for the 5th place in the tournament. This win is also significant since it is the first time India won against Germany after defeating them by 2-0 in the Punjab Gold Cup that had been organized during 2009.
Rupinder also scored another goal in the match but Mandeep Singh was the highest scorer with 3 goals to his name. The two teams had clashed earlier during the league stage and the match had ended in a 3-3 draw. During this match the Germans had started off in a blistering fashion with a brace of goals by the 6th minute and at that time it had seemed that the Indians might cave in. India, however, got one back at the 18th minute with Mandeep converting a pass within the D from Raghunath. Germany hit back with a goal before the half time as well.
However, India came back strongly in the second half with one goal each from Mandeep and Rupinder. The see-saw nature of the match could be gauged from the fact that both sides missed opportunities to pile on the pressure. During the 45th minute Yousuf Affan had a deflection richochet off the bar and later on Tobias Hauke missed a penalty stroke. The exchange of goals and momentum continued with Mandeep scoring in the 53rd minute and Germany getting back with a successful penalty corner a couple of minutes later.
The referee was also kept busy throughout the match as can be understood from the number of cards shown to members in both the teams – the Indian captain Sardar Singh was shown a yellow card and for Germany the honors went to Tobias Matania and Thilo Stralkawski. However, the major drama came after the Indians had scored, what proved to be, the winning goal. Even as the Indians were busy in celebration Germany argued that the shot had been taken in an improper manner and asked for a review. The video review however showed the goal to be a valid one.
This victory, without a doubt, is a stupendous one but what needs to be asked in this context is why does the Indian team is unable to perform well when it matters – at least in case of this tournament, which is being staged in India itself, why is the team fighting for a 5th spot and not the championship? At the present moment the IHL or Indian Hockey League is being organized and like its cricketing counterpart, the IPL, it is attracting some big names of world hockey. If this exposure is not sufficient enough then, maybe, the authorities should let the players appear in overseas leagues such as the one in The Netherlands, which is reputed to be a leading name of its kind.
The question that comes then is, is the problem a mental one? Then the controlling body should think of options such as sports psychologists. Perhaps the players themselves are not motivated enough to be performing at their best each and every time they step on the turf. The display against Germany suggests otherwise though! In such a situation the selectors could do well to choose players who are eager to represent their nation in the international arena and are not taking success for granted. In any case, the team is not performing as well as it would like to and everyone concerned should be really pulling in the same direction so that the national sport of India can earn its rightful place under the sun.