Top teams and best athletes of the world hurt India's chances at Tokyo Olympics
India has been facing the top seeds and top-ranked players of their respective sport, many of whom were not faced outside the elite events like the Olympics.
The first half of week 1 of the competition in the Tokyo Olympics is almost coming to an end. This same period promised to be an exciting one for Indian fans, as various medal events and some important matches were stacked in these four days. But fans have termed it disappointing to see what has actually transpired till now.
However, when the results are looked into more deeply to understand what went wrong, there seems to be a pattern. Across various sports, India has had to face some of the toughest opponents in their respective sports, some of whom they have never faced in the recent past.
The question is, can we take any pride in the outcomes that have occurred even though the results have gone the other way.
Beginning with Hockey, the Indian women's team were thrashed by the current world and European champions, The Netherlands, in their very first game. The result read 5-1 in the end, but the game turned towards the end of the third half. Indian women matched the top seeds for most of the game. One of the major learning from this game was to sustain that level of hockey for the full 60 mins.
Their second game was against Germany, who is the second best-placed team in the world. Surely, the lesson from the first game seemed to have been already put into practice. Even being down by the end of the first half, the team matched Germany for the remaining part of the game.
Multiple chances were created but were failed to be converted into goals. Still, having faced the top two teams in the world in their first two games, teams they haven't even faced in the last three years, the results were satisfying.
The men's team, too, faced the world number 2 Australia in their second group game, having already beaten New Zealand in their opening game. The team succumbed to one of their worst defeats against the former world champions.
The pace and the skills of the Australians were simply too hard to match. The difference in quality and tactics were evident. Unlike the women, the opponents are not new to the men's team. They had frequently faced each other, with the most recent meeting coming in the FIH hockey pro league last year.
In Archery, the qualification of rounds decided how the draw would fare for both individual and team events. Both the men's and the mixed teams were drawn to face the top seeds and the dominant force South Korea before the semi-finals. The Koreans are a class apart from any of the other archers in the world.
That also showed in their qualification scores; even in the individual events, it turned out to be similar for the Indians. Deepika is drawn to face the top-seeded Korean archer in the quarter-finals. Both the teams, who have already had an outing so far, managed to reach the quarter-finals only to lose to Korea. The individual rounds will follow.
As the Koreans in Archery, Chinese are considered unbeatable in Table tennis. Indian top-seeded paddler Sharath Kamal was drawn to face the reigning Olympic and three-time consecutive World champion Ma Long in Round 3. The two had earlier met each other 4 times, with the most recent one being in 2019.
Before that, their last meeting came in 2012. Ma Long was always an extremely difficult opponent, but what Sharath managed to do was simply incredible. Sharath took away one game from the Chinese and came very close to another in the next game.
But having lost that game, he lost his momentum before eventually conceding the match. What was expected to be a one-sided affair was far from one in the end, though the scoreline suggests something else.
Other than Sharath, Manika Batra had her best outing in her career ever. She beat a much-fancied Ukrainian opponent Margaryta Pesotska in round 2, who was seeded 20th. After overcoming that tough hurdle, Manika faced an even tougher 10th seeded Austrian opponent Sofia Polcanova in round 3.
This match proved to be too hard for Manika, but she had already passed all the pre-games expectations by then. India's fourth paddler Suthirtha Mukharjee too, had an awe-inspiring debut at the Olympics. She had beaten a much higher-ranked opponent in round 1 before succumbing in the next round.
In other sports like Tennis, Fencing and Badminton, the luck of the draw did not favour the Indians as well. Sumit Nagal in Tennis, having beaten the fancied Asian games gold medalist Denis Istomin had to face the world number 2 in Daniel Medvedev. He put up a decent effort, but the gap of levels was vast.
Bhavani Devi had a brilliant debut, not just for her but for India in Fencing. She created history by beating the lower-ranked Tunisian to give India its first-ever victory in Fencing at the Olympics. In the next round, she had to face the world number 3 and the eventual bronze medalist. But she still gave a very tough fight.
Even Satvik and Chirag in Badminton men's doubles had a very tough draw, having grouped with world numbers 1 and 3. They had an incredible start by beating the world number 3 pair from Chinese Taipei. This pair lost to the world number 1 pair from Indonesia in straight games, proving the difference for their qualification.
India has been facing the top seeds and top-ranked players of their respective sport, many of whom were not faced outside the elite events like the Olympics. These losses have come against much-fancied opponents, where a victory was realistically not expected. In the last few days, these meetings have shown us how we fare against the best in the world.
There is an evident gap in the quality of our play. One thing is clear that we need to play these opponents more frequently in the future in an attempt to reduce this gap.
The women's hockey team, for instance, need to play Germany and Netherlands more outside the Olympics and not just once in 4 years. Regardless, there were still loads of positives to carry even in these defeats and the match-ups that preceded these defeats.