On 30th July, Indian hockey will start its stiffest examination in a long while. London Olympics 2012 isn’t necessarily the toughest competition Indian team has faced in the past decade, but there’s a renewed sense of expectation back home this time around. It’s been a year since Michael Nobbs took over and though the tenure hasn’t been devoid of controversies, it’s been largely a positive step ahead for Indian hockey.
In the short period since I started following the game, the past glory and colossal giants of the game have, more often than not, resembled a sword hanging over the team’s head. A fan saw the glorified heroes of the decades when the game was vastly different than today, and felt automatically disgusted with the present scenario of the so-called ‘national sport’. These two tags – history and official ‘respect’ awarded to hockey – contributed to the suppressing of whatever few positives that emerged from the sport in recent times. Internal politics and blame games didn’t help either, obviously. India is still the only country with more than one hockey body representing the sport.
But right now, I don’t want to give it a thought. Indian hockey has taken a new turn – it has given us hope, a realistic one. And no, it’s not about winning a medal in London. The more realistic, and at the risk of sounding haughty, the more knowledgeable fans will understand the importance of a top-6 finish at London Olympics for Indian hockey. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is our team going to reach its zenith in a matter of months. There are far superior teams out there who are going to be at their best – Australia, Germany, Netherlands and Spain are miles ahead of us in terms of experience (Michael Nobbs and the support staff have managed to reduce the fitness gap). If we think that drawing one and then losing the next practice match to Spain and losing thrice and winning once against Great Britain this year is going to make us podium finishers at London, we’re in for a harsh awakening.
But now that we’ve got the cynicism out of the way, it’s time to highlight the hope – the hope of being better, and subsequently, sooner than later, the best. Starting from the coach, Michael Nobbs and his support staff have given their best in building a team for the future. The best thing about Nobbs is his honest outlook towards Indian hockey. He’s optimistic and he knows that the first hurdle to overcome is fitness. And he along with team’s physiotherapist and now manager David John, has worked wonders on that front – Sardar Singh even claimed that the team would show off their six-packs, should they win a medal!
Sandeep Singh is the poster boy of this Indian team, his drag-flicks drawing oohs and aahs from the crowds world over. He’s one of the best drag-flickers in the world and the face for the Indian team which needed a hero in time of the stiff task ahead. But behind this hero, are the men who despite missing the limelight, are the nuts and bolts of this Indian machinery. Sardar Singh, Shivendra Singh, SK Uthappa, Danish Mujtaba, SV Sunil, Tushar Khandker, VR Raghunath, Ignace Tirkey, Bharat Chetri and others are the men who’ll drive forward the Indian juggernaut.
Despite being a cricket fanatic, I’ll be hooked to hockey this month and the next – the senseless and fan-less Indian tour of Sri Lanka will take a backseat. Indian hockey though, is at the cusp of something glorious, and I don’t want to miss a single second.