The Indian men’s hockey team may just be on the path to glory

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The path to glory has remained elusive for the Indian men’s hockey team over many decades now. And if the national team’s performance at the 37th and last FIH Champions Trophy, Netherlands, is anything to go by, it does appear that the path to glory for the Blueshirts has been given some kind of concrete shape.

Coaching the Indian men’s hockey team is never a piece of cake but the newly-installed chief coach Harendra Singh, on his fourth stint as national coach, seems to have inculcated a sense of ‘toughness’ in this side.

It was amply evident in the manner in which the boys rose to the occasion in Breda and infused renewed hope about Indian hockey heading in the right direction, promising much more for the future.

Coach Harendra Singh, on his fourth stint as national coach, seems to have inculcated a sense of ‘toughness’ in this side.

Of course, the Indo-Pakistan matches no longer have the edge-of-the-seat rivalry witnessed in the past as the Blueshirts have managed to hold sway over their arch-rivals. A 4-0 victory over the Greenshirts was just what the doctor ordered for Harendra Singh’s boys – it was heartening to see the young forward line notch up all the four field goals with the likes of Dilpreet, Mandeep, Lalit and Ramandeep coming to the party.

The young squad against major opponents

Argentina has always been a sticky opposition to tide over and India had to be at their best to pull it off against the South Americans – India’s 1-1 draws against Belgium and the Netherlands respectively, were matches where the Blueshirts unsettled their fancied opponents with their burst of speed, aggression and purpose. The good thing about this side is that they always looked to throw the first punches – they took the lead in four of the five league games barring the lone 2-3 defeat to Australia, a game in which they had to do the ‘catching up’.

The path to glory has remained elusive for the Indian men’s hockey team over many decades now.

A result in a big-ticket tournament is crucial for any nation but there is always life beyond ‘winning’ – stuff like was it a meek surrender in the final or was it was a hard-fought loss or a narrow loss. Ask even the staunchest of Indian hockey critics, they will be compelled to agree that this Indian team indeed made Australia look rattled in the summit clash.

We all know the high levels of fitness the national team have attained over past five-six years since the disastrous 2012 London Olympics.

It was all about being tactically strong and doing the ‘right things at the right time’ and not allows ‘nerves’ get the better of you. The Indian team dished out the same medicine the Kookaburras hand out to every other opposition.

The Blueshirts played high press hockey from the outset with fast interchange of passes, more importantly keeping the Aussies away from the ball for a length period. Australia were hustled out of their stride and one could see mistakes creeping into their game.

The Sreejesh-led Indian team looked to close out the match in regulation time, but lady luck smiled widely on the Australians as they denied what could have been a historic Champions Trophy win.

Australia no doubt, did a repeat of the 2016 Champions Trophy when they won the final in a shootout, but India did leave Australia with too many ‘questions’, which the latter have to ponder and work on for the future.

From the Indian perspective, Harendra can only be rejoicing at the ‘positives’ from this tournament. Harmanpreet may have looked a tad inconsistent in defence, but it would be unfair to write him off, as he has dollops of talent to turn himself into a big player.

India did leave Australia with too many ‘questions’, which the latter have to ponder and work on for the future.

Surender Kumar and Birendra Lakra were outstanding in defence and will make it a problem of plenty for the selectors. Amit Rohidas will have to pull up his socks as he looked below par.

Vastly experienced Sardar Singh had a mixed bag in the tournament, but he left no one in doubt that what value he adds to the side. Manpreet’s consistency has been a big plus for India and he is one guy who should serve the national team for a long time to come.

Young Madhya Pradesh lad Vivek Sagar Prasad was also a revelation and with experience he should be an asset to the side and has already underlined his utility to the side.

The forward line has plenty of room for improvement.

SV Sunil will be disappointed with his performance; he dazzled with his sprinting runs but with a player of his experience, much will be expected from him, as he seemed to flounder with the final finish on quite a few occasions.

Youngster Dilpreet Singh has been fantastic for India so far (Image: Hockey India)

Youngster Dilpreet Singh has been fantastic for India so far – he looks to have all the traits of a complete player – Dilpreet not only has strong individual skills but also has the knack of feeding defence-splitting passes and even enjoys rushing to the aid of the defence in desperate times and bails his side with his neat tackles. Mandeep and Lalit looked good in patches and will have to keep working on their game before they can cement their national spots.

“I can assure you that we will never compromise on the attacking hockey. We will aim to sustain such attacking hockey in future as well. We will settle for nothing but a gold at the Asian Games,” says chief coach Harendra Singh.

Clearly, Harendra Singh’s troops has made all the right noises in Breda and it remains to be seen how they can conquer new frontiers at the Asian Games and the World Cup. The signs are for all there to see.

Also read: Three reasons why David John is not the right man for Indian hockey