2018 was expected to be a big year for Indian men's hockey team. A year, when the Indian team fulfilled their potential, a year when India would finally announce itself to the world after winning a big tournament for the fans, but it once again turned out to be a year when Indian team faltered and failed to deliver.
In a year when the team was supposed to build upon the bronze medal win of Hockey World League, the team management chose to step back by sending an experimental side for Sultan Azlan Shah trophy and sending out of favor Sardar Singh as a captain of the side. As expected, the team failed to produce any result, finishing 5th among 6 teams that participated and Sardar Singh was made a scapegoat and was axed from the team.
Disaster in Commonwealth Games
India’s record in Commonwealth Games has been nothing to be proud of but the team did win silver medals in last two editions of the tournament. Due to a strong ending to 2017, the Indian team was among the favorites for the tournament and challenge Australia for the Gold but the team failed to win any medal and finished fourth behind Australia, New Zealand, and England. India’s performance in the tournament was so dire that even die-hard hockey fans switched off the TV set to avoid the pain. Failure to win a medal led to sacking (read: swapping) of coach Sjored Marijne and coach of women team Harendra Singh was made the new coach of Indian men team.
A Glimmer of Hope
The divide and rule attitude of Sjored Marijne had made the team’s atmosphere so toxic that Narinder Batra had to intervene and mend the relationship of two senior players of the side. Harendra Singh’s first task was to get the broken team together before executing his plans with very little time at hand. He brought back Sardar Singh and Ramandeep Singh (before he got injured) for his first assignment as Champions Trophy and he delivered by helping India win the silver medal in the last edition of Champions Trophy.
Failure in Asian Games
With an eye on the World Cup in December, India began its Asian Games campaign in style thrashing teams left right and center but tragedy stuck soon as India failed to deliver in semi-finals and losing to Malaysia in shootouts. India did manage to win a bronze medal after beating Pakistan but the failure to win the gold medal was once again blamed on Sardar Singh with High-Performance Director David John saying on record that the career of Sardar Singh has ended.
The federation’s attitude towards Sardar Singh was so bad that he could not take any more and finally announced his retirement from the game. His retirement led a deep gap in Indian midfield that no current player could fulfill.
Drawing Blank in the World Cup
Playing the World Cup at home against the capacity crowd cheering for Indian team was the best morale booster that Indian team got. But the team squandered the opportunity and failed to proceed beyond quarterfinals. The forward line failed to score, and lack of experience in midfield meant that Indian team failed to hurt the opposition.
Failure in all the big three tournaments after setting up huge expectations meant 2018 as another year that the team, the management, and the federation letting the team down.