Commonwealth Games 2018: Can coach Harendra Singh deliver the miracle again?
With a hard earned win against South Africa, the Indian women's hockey team has comfortably cruised into the semifinals of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, a feat they've repeated after a long haul of 12 years.
Barring a shock loss against Wales by 2-3, the team has won many hearts with their impeccable skills, team spirit and above all, the knack of causing upsets, which included a surprise win against current Olympic champions, England.
However, the road to the elusive gold medal is not easy for the Indian eves, and who knows it better than Harendra Singh, their coach. For him, it seems that the circle of life has taken a new roundabout.
Two years ago, back home, a team stood between India and their much awaited Junior Hockey World Cup.
Two years later, the same team stands between India and her much awaited Commonwealth gold medal. The gender might have changed, but the team remains the same, i.e. Australia.
On paper, it is without a doubt the Australian team that has an upper edge over the Indians. They've been triple Olympic champions, though it's another matter that their last medal came almost two decades ago.
They had missed the coveted Women's Hockey World Cup by a whisker, losing to Netherlands in the final.
In Commonwealth Games, Australian women's team, nicknamed the Hockeyroos, have won nothing less than a gold medal, the only exception being Manchester 2002 edition, where they were compelled to settle for the bronze medal. Since then, they've never looked back.
Cut to Gold Coast CWG 2018. In Pool B, Australia have been the table toppers, with three wins and a solitary draw against New Zealand.
India, on the other hand, have come second in Pool B, with three wins and a loss against Wales.
So if the Indian eves wish to relive the golden moments of Manchester 2002, they'll have to go out all guns blazing against the Hockeyroos.
Acid test for the coach
The semifinals against Australia is nothing less than an acid test for Singh, who had previously led an unlikely Indian team to a historic Junior Hockey World Cup after 15 years.
Ever since his arrival, the Indian team has improved by leaps and bounds, even managing to win the Asia Cup after 13 years, shocking stalwarts like China and Japan in the process.
However, this match against Australia is completely different from the previous encounters. Here, the Indian Eves coach will have to set the equations right in such a manner, that even one goal conceded to the rival team doesn't demoralise the Indian team.
He would want a performance similar on the lines of the match against England, where the Indian eves, after being down by 0-1 in the very first minute of the match, came back strongly and pummeled the English team by 2-1.
Also, there is a blessing in disguise for coach Harendra, the Australian team's current form. They're a far cry from the resilient team that had almost won the Women's Hockey World Cup in 2014.
Only a two months ago, in a test series against China, Australia had to face the ignominy of a shock defeat on their home ground, when the Chinese razed the Hockeyroos by 3-1 at the turf in Perth. This, after China is ranked eighth, four places below Australia in the FIH women's rankings.
The journey to the semis hasn't been very smooth for the Australian team. They drew against a seemingly weaker New Zealand by 0-0, which is certainly not impressive.
Even though they won against the likes of Canada, Ghana, Scotland etc., their win against Canada did expose some chinks in their armour, where all Australia could manage was a solitary goal against a team ranked way below them, at 19th position.
These are a few facts which could inspire Singh as he prepares the team for another crucial match on the 12th of April, to be held at the Gold Coast Hockey Centre.
He will also be inspired by his own coaching in the FIH Junior Hockey World Cup, where the junior colts from India forced Australia to fight it out in the penalty shootouts of the semifinals, in which India ultimately prevailed by 4-2.
If India manages to surprise Australia, and even win the elusive gold, not only will they create history, but will also place themselves as a potential bet for the Women's Hockey World Cup. Going by Singh's credentials, we won't be surprised either.