Commonwealth Games 2018: Can the 'Midas of Hockey' Harendra Singh maintain his dream run?
We all have revelled on the maverick character of Kabir Khan in 'Chak De! India'. But there has been one man, whose life was almost the same as the man portrayed on screen by Shahrukh Khan.
He was pilloried by armchair critics and the federation alike for letting the nation down in the 2005 Junior Hockey World Cup when India missed the podium finish after losing 4-5 on penalty strokes to Spain.
After his unceremonious exit from the turf as an Indian player in 1991, this was the second time that he was forced into oblivion by an ungrateful system.
13 years later, the very man is now once again at the helm of affairs, this time as the coach of the Indian women's hockey team out for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018.
He can be nicknamed 'the Midas of Indian hockey', for his uncanny ability of not losing any major tournament he has laid his hands on, be it a historic win of Sultan Azlan Shah Cup after 14 years in 2009, or the legendary victory at the FIH Junior Hockey World Cup 2016, or even the memorable win at the AHF Women's Asia Cup 2017, there is nothing that Singh as the magical coach hasn't achieved as yet.
Now he's leading the young women's team to the Commonwealth Games, an event where India hasn't won a medal in 12 years.
While his recent track record has been nothing less than impressive, it would be a sight to see if he leads the women's team to the finals the same way he did at Asia Cup in 2017. Besides, when you have a tech-savvy coach in the form of Harendra Singh, you better not doubt his intentions when he expresses them.
This is something that was hardly visible in the previous coaches of any Indian hockey team, not even the likes of Jose Brasa, Terry Walsh etc, which makes Harendra stand apart as an inspiring example.
A hard taskmaster, Harendra Singh is probably the last person one can associate as a liberal coach. His strict schedules, single-minded focus on the team's results rather than individual brilliance is not the cup of the tea for many, and many people have often walked out from his training camps.
On a realistic note, Singh's task at the Commonwealth Games is not a cakewalk. Though the women's team has an easy opening against the minnows of Wales, Malaysia, their ultimate test shall come against the current Olympic champions, England.
If he manages to do the unimaginable, India shall face a relatively easier opponent in the form of New Zealand in the semifinals. Otherwise, if they wish to recreate the magic of the 2002 Manchester edition, the Indian team will have to play the match of their lives against Australia, and the coach knows this very well.
When Harendra Singh was bestowed with the job of the women's hockey team, many eyebrows were raised for two major points. One, Harendra had never coached a women's team in his entire career of more than 15 years, and two, the women's team was not a force to be reckoned with in the eyes, especially after their drubbing at the Rio Olympics, where the women's team had qualified after 36 years.
In such a challenging environment, Harendra gave the much needed psychological tonic that the Indian women's team badly needed. For a man, who is not hesitant to risk even his life in the pursuit of success, Harendra has always been focused on a go-getter mode. In his eyes, if there is a target set, it must be achieved, come what may. To quote him, "If the spirit to win is there till the last second, you end up winning more and losing less."
With a penchant for scientific temper, Harendra knit the team as a cohesive unit, making the players realise that it was only collective brilliance and the team spriti which would help them realise their ultimate goals. It blended as one family, with there no room for ego, dispute and indiscipline, and thus, no superstar.
No wonder the Indian women's team, which is not a very powerful force in Asian hockey, at least on paper, managed to pummel the likes of China, South Korea, Japan etc. in the Asia Cup 2017.
If this team manages to even reach the semifinals, it could very pose itself as a serious candidate for the first ticket to the Tokyo Olympics 2020, in the form of a gold medal at the upcoming Jakarta Asian Games.
Whether or not Singh manages to recreate another historical moment in Indian hockey lies in the lap of future, but we're assured of one thing: till the time Harendra Singh is present as the coach, the Indian women's team will not fizzle out like their stint at Rio 2016, and will certainly not bow out without giving a tough fight. The game is on, for Harendra.Published 26 Mar 2018, 18:12 IST