Hockey is the national game of India at least on paper. Although cricket has left it far behind as far as popularity is concerned. Currently, hockey has lost its significance and glory in our country. Continuing lacklustre performance, scarcity of extraordinary talent, and poor performances at the international level has made this game lose its viewership.
Winning eight gold medals in Olympics and lifting the 1975 world cup after defeating arch-rivals Pakistan in the final, these were the glories of the past. No one has the time in this digital age to read the splendid history of Indian hockey. Players of that age were respected and treated like celebrities.
Scope of revival
Although all odds are against the Indian hockey, we should not forget the word ‘revival’. Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) has been keeping its fingers crossed in the hope of the upliftment of the team’s performance at the international arena.
IHF hires alien coaches
IHF has left no stone unturned. Several times foreign coaches have been hired to boost the level of the game, but it has been fruitless. At present, the bridle of Indian hockey is now in the hands of former Australian player and coach Graham Reid. The question that arises here is that, can he change the fortune of hockey in the country? It is difficult to climb a high mountain peak.
Reid looks optimistic
Reid took charge-back in April, and the primary duty assigned to him is to prepare the team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Fortunately, under his guidance, men in blue have been making progress by leaps and bounds. Of late, the Indian men’s hockey team was on the Belgium tour. Productive results against strong teams like Belgium and Spain have raised the ray of hope in the upcoming 2020 Olympics.
Fruitful Belgium tour
Five successive wins, including three victories against the reigning world and European hockey champions Belgium (Red Lions) and two wins against another strong European team Spain have boosted the Indian team’s confidence ahead of the Olympic qualifiers. According to coach Graham Reid, “the biggest takeaway” from the tour is a new overseas training feature introduced by him, which has added valuable feedback for his staff to work on.
Chance to play with top players
Captain Manpreet and his boys have made full use of the two-week stay in Belgium. They got the opportunity to match the top players in the world. Belgium, the super-fit side, plays hockey like football. Man, to man marking, always makes it difficult for the opponents to create openings and score goals. India produced an aggressive brand of hockey in the last match of the tour and outclassed Belgium in their den with a huge margin of 5-1 and maintained 100% winning records.
Fitness an important aspect
The fitness level of the Indian players has improved tremendously over the last five years. The credit should go to Hockey India’s scientific advisor, Robin Arkell, and physiotherapist David MacDonald. They have applied all the modern methods to make our players super fit and have ensured that the players refrain from injury for a longer period.
Reid said, “When you train with a different team, you increase the tempo because you don’t want to lose and fight every little battle that you have during training; everything is at a tempo higher than it might be when you are training among yourselves. That was good”.
Youngsters get exposer
The Belgium tour was pleasing and fruitful. Youngsters got the first-hand experience to show their talent against stronger opponents. They didn’t disappoint the hockey fans this time. But coming tournaments are tight and need high-quality performances. The biggest challenge is to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Performing in bilateral series and essential matches, both are different. India will take on Russia in two weeks for the two-match Olympic qualifying event to be held in Bhubaneswar.
India takes on Russia
In about two weeks, on November 1 and 2, India will host 22nd-ranked Russia for their two-match Olympic qualifying event in Bhubaneswar. Remember India outclassed lowly ranked Russia with a positive margin 10-0 in their last clash during the FIH Series Final in earlier this year.
India should not face any hurdle in qualification games for the Tokyo Olympics. The mood of team India is upbeat after their sensational performance in Belgium tour. Under the guidance of the Aussie coach, team India is a strong contender to take the podium in the next year’s Olympics. But like any other sport, there is uncertainty in this sport as well.