There is still some way to go before India is once again considered a global superpower in hockey. But the highly competitive men’s team, now ranked sixth in the world, seems well set on the long road to resurgence and women’s team too look promising
From the era of British Raj to the team under Vasudevan Bhaskaran in 1980, it was India everywhere in the game of hockey.
Eight Olympic gold medals, a silver and two bronze — 11 in total. But 1980 was the end of the line and the drought of medals began, with the nadir being reached when the country failed to even qualify for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Hopes are rising again. The current team may not yet match up to the glorious sides of the past, but the situation has certainly changed. It may be time to give some space and hope to the youngsters who are trying to match up to the breakneck speed of the international hockey.
Though India qualified for London, they finished 12th out of 12 teams. Cut to Rio, where they fared better by beating Ireland and eventual champions Argentina, but succumbed to the pressure in big games against Germany and just held on to 2-2 draw against Canada.
The Sreejesh-led team made it to the knockout stages for the first time in 36 years, but that was mainly because Rio had opted to hold quarter-finals, rather than head straight to semi-finals after the group stage. They finished eighth in the competition.
Hopes from the men’s team rose when they made the final of the Champions Trophy, in London in London. Even though they lost out to Australia in a penalty shoot-out, the silver medal was their best finish in the tournament in 36 years.
They also dominated at the continental level; beating China 9-0 in one of the group matches of the Asian Champions Trophy in November and defeating Pakistan twice, including a 3-2 win in the final.
The man who steadied the ship after the storm of four foreign coaches — Jose Brasa, Michael Nobbs, Terry Walsh and Paul van Ass — was the Dutchman Roelant Oltmans. He came as a High Performance Director and eventually took over as the head coach.
The players also attributed the achievements to him and acknowledge his role in turning the team into a professional unit.
The biggest achievement though was the victory in the Junior Hockey World Cup, when the Harjeet Singh-led team defeated Belgium to win the tournament for the second time in its history.
While the men’s team had a lot of moments to cherish, the women too had something to feel proud of. They defeated World No.4 Australia in the first of the three Test matches in Melbourne in November.
The Indian women qualified for the Olympics after 36 years by achieving a top-five finish at the 2014-15 Women’s FIH Hockey World League semi-finals.
Like the boys, the women too won the Asian Champions Trophy by defeating China in Singapore.
There is still some way to go before India is once again considered a global superpower in hockey. But the highly competitive men’s team, now ranked sixth in the world, seems well set on the long road to resurgence and women’s team too look promising.