Medalless in 2018, how Indian hockey regained glory at Commonwealth Games 2022
Starved of a medal in the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, the Indian hockey teams - both men's and women's found the spark in time to finish on the podium at the Birmingham CWG 2022. Here's how it happened!
"I am trying to scrub this silver medal into gold" - Shah Rukh Khan's immortal dialogue from Chak De! India — a film based on hockey — oddly resonates Indian men's hockey team's fate in the Commonwealth Games (CWG) history. Akin to the previous editions, once again the team's third effort to dislodge mighty Australia goes in vain with a shipwreck near the coast (read final). A 7-0 drubbing by the undisputed Australian side saw the Indian men settle with a silver medal once again after 2010 and 2014.
While Manpreet Singh and Co. would still be satisfied with the reprieve from a medal-less campaign in Gold Coast CWG in 2018, the women's team, on the other hand, reaped the reward of their soaring form since the Tokyo Olympics by winning a medal — bronze — after 16 years at this stage. A team nurtured by Sjoerd Marijne passed on to be shouldered by Janneke Schopman gets a huge morale lift after a lacklustre show at the Women's Hockey World Cup, where they had finished in the 9th position.
We, at The Bridge, delve into the campaigns of the Indian men's and women's hockey teams to bring you a detailed analysis.
Indian men's hockey team at CWG 2022
A team that was deliberating on sending a second squad for the CWG, considering their priority towards the Asian Games ended up sending their best line-up to Birmingham with the continental sporting extravaganza getting postponed. Expectations had hit the roof again following their bronze medal finish in the Tokyo Olympics. A team with the proper balance of experienced and youth players decimated lowly ranked opponents like Ghana (11-0), Canada (8-0), and Wales (4-1). With 45 circle penetrations against Ghana, the defence was barely tested, and India flagged off their campaign with a resounding dominance.
India, who were leading 3-0 till half-time against heavyweights England in their second match suddenly witnessed a new burst of vigour from the English side. Varun Kumar's two yellow cards followed by another to Gurjant Singh egged on for India and hurt the side as England made inroads 10 times into the attacking circle in the final quarter to level it up at 4-4. A mistake by the substitute goalkeeper Krishan Pathak to let Philip Roper score from a five-degree angle, whereas the vulnerability of Amit Rohidas, and Jarmanpreet led the pressure to build on India and they had to settle for a draw.
The Men in Blue came back strongly in their third match and mounted attacks after attacks on the Canadian citadel. With just 15 circle entries, Canada was no match for India's 47 entries. While both Sreejesh and Pathak were 100% accurate in saving all the shots that were on target, three of India's dependent forwards — Gurjant, Mandeep and Akashdeep — ensured their coordination yielding desired field goals, alongside vice-captain Harmanpreet's brace from penalty corners.
Harmanpreet starred with his second hat-trick in the tournament during India's last pool stage match against Wales, where India strategically managed to poke holes in what seemed to be a resolute defence. In the semifinals, India faced a stern test against South Africa, particularly from the Protean goalkeeper Gowan Jones denying the Indian side a goal till the 20th minute. India failed to capitalise from the seven penalty corners that they won, finding just a single goal but Jarmanpreet stood out for the team with his swift forays into the striking circle and eventually finding the net.
As projected, India met its biggest roadblock in the final against Australia. The defending champions ran riot despite the best efforts of Sreejesh to seal their seventh gold medal in CWG. While the Australian attackers displayed sublime form and coordination, their defence ensured India found no space in the circle to create any scoring opportunity. India has traditionally always struggled against Australia. Even at the Tokyo Olympics, they lost 7-1. With the repetitive defensive scrambles, the drubbing looked inevitable.
Lack of preparedness during the five penalty corners that India earned, hurt the side's chances even more who couldn't put past a single goal against the side that conceded just four goals in the tournament.
The team's form was reflected in the result with brilliant showcases from Harmanpreet Singh, who stood out to be one of the top goalscorers in the tournament (9 goals). Sreejesh pulled off 14 crucial saves for the team, including five penalty corners. A silver medal befits the men's team campaign, however, a win over mighty Australia still looked like a distant dream, not at par with the best in the world.
Indian women's hockey team at CWG 2022
After a below-par show at the 2022 Hockey World Cup, the Indian Eves were seeking an opportunity to drive a medal home — a possibility that was nudged during the spirited show at the Tokyo Games. This time around, the girls finally proved their worth with a medal despite steep challenges, the absence of Rani Rampal and a horrendous timing faux pas by the organisers in the shoot-out against Australia.
Janneke Schopman has proven her point in her second big assignment as the chief coach. Besides, Savita Punia's spectacular form has finally given India a medal at CWG after 16 years. The captain overcame a defeat by Australia in the semifinal in the shootouts and snatched a deserving bronze medal with another shootout in the deciding match against New Zealand.
In their first match, Gurjit Kaur picked up a hat-trick, whereas Savita maintained a hundred per cent save record to demolish Ghana by 5-0. A whopping 82 per cent of the circle penetration in the match was made by India.
Against Wales, in their second group stage match, the team was denied a goal till the 26th minute because of poor execution of penalty corners. However, it was the veteran Vandana Katariya who fixed her angles and found the breakthrough, scoring a brace through drag flicks against a defence that stood firmly to not let past any field goals in the match.
India's winning run was halted by a dominant England team. The sole goal for the Indians came from Vandana's deflection on Gurjit's penalty corner stroke. Apart from the goals scored, England goalkeeper Maddie saved several goals. India's pitfall again was its inability to convert penalty corners.
In their final group-stage match, India dominated the possession. Navneet Kaur, who looked spectacular in the right flank in India's entire campaign, found the net alongside Salima and Lalremsiami. Though Canada was leading, India showed their indomitable spirit in the final 15 minutes of the game and persisted with an attacking approach, eventually winning a penalty corner and capitalising on it.
The team's quest for a berth in the CWG final ended in heartbreak with Australia defeating them 3-0 in the shootout in Birmingham.
The Savita Punia-led India team fought valiantly in the semifinal in the regulation time which ended in 1-1 but missed out on converting their attempts in the shootout. Notably, the penalty shootout was marred by controversy as the first penalty was ordered to be retaken by officials due to a shot-clock error.
With many hailing the controversy as the turning point for India's loss, a resurgent team showcased their perseverance in the bronze medal match. India's slender 1-0 lead over New Zealand cost heavy when the Kiwis found an equaliser just 28 seconds before the end of regulation time. The match went into the shootouts, and Savita Punia made no mistake this time denying two chances for the Kiwis that was enough to win India a bronze.
The women's team surpassed their expectations by producing a medal-winning performance. The girls looked like a promising unit despite Rani Rampal's absence. However, coach Janneke Schopman would need to figure out to work on the team's low penalty corner conversion rate. They converted only seven of the 37 PCs that they won.
The Indian contingent comprising both the teams showcased satisfactory results at the CWG which would keep the momentum going, particularly before the Men's Hockey World Cup and the postponed Asian Games.