Can India ride on the luck of their recent success in the Asian Champions Trophy?
On the back of some positive results this year, the Indian hockey team will be going into the World Cup which is to be held in Orissa (Bhubaneshwar) from 28th November with some happy memories. Although it has been a mixed year for the team, the results look satisfactory. India began their 2018 campaign when they toured New Zealand playing against the home team, Japan and Belgium. India played 8 games and won 7 games on that tour. Their only loss on came against Belgium.
India’s next assignment was the Sultan Azlan Shah Tournament in Malaysia. The tournament saw the return of the charismatic Sardara Singh who was the captain in that tournament. Sardara made a return to the side after being ignored for some of the earlier tournaments. There were some new faces on that tour. India’s campaign in that tour wasn’t that impressive as the team finished 5th in the tournament but that tour was like a learning curve for the younger players in that team.
Then came the Commonwealth Games which were held in Australia. The Men In Blue were the favourites to win at least a Bronze but the team returned empty-handed. Sardar Singh and Manpreet Singh weren’t included in that team. Their presence could have been valuable for the side. Due to the team’s poor performance, India’s coach Sjoerd Marijne was removed and Harendra Singh, who was the coach of the Women’s team, was made the coach of the men’s team.
His campaign began on a decent note as India won silver in the Champions Trophy after losing to Australia in the final in a penalty shootout. The tournament was held in Breda (Netherlands). Sardara Singh was a part of that tournament and his presence boosted the side’s confidence.
After an eventful Champions Trophy, India were firm favourites to win the Gold medal in the Asian Games in Jakarta (Indonesia), but they lost to a determined Malaysia in the semifinals. However, Harendra Singh’s side won Bronze by beating Pakistan. India hammered 76 goals in the entire tournament. Sardara Singh decided to retire after the tournament which was unfortunate for Indian Hockey.
India’s next goal was to do well in the Asian Champions Trophy in Muscat as the Men In Blue were once again clear favourites to lift the trophy. India was clearly the dominating team throughout the tournament as they played an attractive brand of Hockey. Their intent looked positive and the team played with a positive mindset. India was up against Pakistan in the final but unfortunately, rain played spoilsport and the two teams shared the honours.
The Indian team has played 43 games this year with 26 wins, 11 losses, 5 draws and 1 no result. The Indian team will be a confident lot ahead of the World Cup but the team will be missing its two experienced campaigners in the form of flamboyant forward SV Sunil and drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh.
SV Sunil will be out with knee injury but Rupinder Pal Singh has been dropped from the squad. His exclusion though has raised a few eyebrows. The selectors have named a few youngsters in the squad which might possibly infuse much more intensity in the team. It will be interesting to see how the team shapes up against teams who are quick on counter attacks.
Manpreet Singh has been handed the captaincy and it has to be seen how he manages the team along with Chinglensana Singh who has been announced as the vice-captain of the team. Coach Harendra Singh too needs to keep his side motivated. The Indian team has the tendency of giving away goals in the dying moments of the game which at times has proved to be costly for them. It is an area where the team needs to show improvement. They also need to be more resolute in their approach and play much more freely.
India need to be more penetrative and sharp in front of the goal. The team also tends to get nervous especially when the opposition creates pressure with their aggressive runs. Although the team has looked sharp in circle penetrations, they need to create more chances through set pieces.
India is placed in pool C along with South Africa, Canada, and Belgium. India play their first game against South Africa on 28th November and if the team manages to win the first game by a good margin, it will do their confidence a world of good. Playing against some of the best teams in the world will surely test the mental, physical and technical aspects of the players.
The team needs to show its cohesiveness and have to play with a killer instinct. Harendra Singh and the team management have to ensure the team plays to its strength and every player gets enough game time before a big game. The players too need to play with a positive intent and keep themselves motivated. The team also needs to improve on its weaknesses of not giving the opposition undue advantage by offering them chances by making errors, especially in defence. Their defence needs to show more solidity.
Giving some of the younger players a chance to play in such a big event will help them improve their game in the future as they will play against some of the heavyweights of the game. The players need to work hard on tactical aspects like one-touch passing and have to bring in some creativity. Their forward line needs to bring in more fluidity. It will also test the bench strength of the team. It will help the younger players to evaluate themselves about where they stand and what type of changes they can bring in their game.
Player’s fitness levels will also be tested as they will be up against some of the fittest players in World Hockey. India won their first practice match against the 2016 Olympic champions Argentina with a 5-0 scoreline. Harendra Singh has stated that such type of wins will be a confidence booster for his side. He also went on to say that he was happy with the way the midfielders operated in that game. For the likes of Surender Kumar, Nilakanta Sharma, Varun Kumar, Hardik Singh etc, this tournament will be their biggest test.
Young Mandeep Singh will once again be the centre point in the team's forward line along with the 24-year-old Akashdeep Singh. The World Cup will be a perfect platform for some of these younger guys in the team to showcase their talent and if the players manage to pull out a surprise then it will surely be an incredible achievement and coach Harendra Singh could be hailed as a legendary figure.
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