Every dark cloud has a silver lining, but with regard to India's campaign in the Commonwealth Games, finding one is equivalent to searching for a needle in a haystack.
On paper, a fourth-place finish in Gold Coast may look to be a slight improvement from a fifth-place finish in Ipoh. Yet, that is far from an accurate assessment, as India's squad for the Azlan Shah Cup comprised a group of fledgelings, and the campaign was deemed to be an experiment.
The Commonwealth Games, however, were not meant to be so and India were expected to go full throttle powered by their best available team. The end result has been disappointing, to say the least, and there is a lot of work to be done before the Champions Trophy commences in just over a couple of months from now.
The only positive for India was the fact that they created numerous chances, as Sjoerd Marijne observed in an interaction with us after the bronze medal match.
The uphill task ahead for India
"It is difficult to be satisfied when you don’t win the gold, but the positive thing was that we created a lot of opportunities" The Indian coach has his task cut out in order to revive and resurrect a team which did little to justify their ranking in the Commonwealth Games.
The final edition of the elite Champions Trophy will be played at Breda (Holland) and India face the daunting prospect of facing the very best teams in the world. India avoided playing the Aussies at Gold Coast but will not have the luxury of doing so in the Champions Trophy which has a tough round-robin format.
Marijne's boys will have to step up by leaps and bounds in order to challenge Netherlands, Argentina, and Belgium who are currently all ranked ahead of India, in addition to clashing with resilient neighbours Pakistan.
When asked if the composition of the team would be changed, Sjoerd Marijne was emphatic that the squad will not undergo any further changes. "No, we will go on with this team. The team will consist of 24 players and these players have to compete to be selected for the tournaments this year."
Fearsome foursome who failed to click
On paper, India's forward line looks to be one of the most fearsome in the world. Names like SV Sunil, Akashdeep Singh, Gurjant Singh, and Mandeep Singh are enough to send shivers down the spines of the opposition defenders. Yet, it would be fair to say that barring SV Sunil, the rest of the Indian strikers failed to live up to their awesome reputation and will have some rebuilding to do.
"They (the Indian forward line) did not score enough, but the players do know this and will work hard to improve. We’ve got so many opportunities but you need to take them to win" was Sjoerd Marijne's observation with regard to the Indian strikers. "We were creating a lot of opportunities to score but the conversion was not good."
What are the areas that India will look to improve upon before the Champions Trophy?
"Individual-level of the players was not good enough. Too many soft goals and PCs against. The structure is good otherwise so not everything is bad, but we need to improve these points."
Improve, they must, and if India are to qualify for Tokyo 2020, they have to win the Asian Games in August. Pakistan's ascendancy has complicated matters for India and they have to be at their formidable best in Jakarta.
When asked what the morale of the team was and how disappointed the players were, the Indian coach had this to say. "They are very very disappointed. They never want to experience this anymore and they know what to improve and they have the confidence that they can do this."
India found themselves on the wrong end of a few questionable decisions in their semi-final encounter against New-Zealand. The Black Sticks managed to score their third goal by virtue of a PC which was awarded because of an obstruction by an Indian player in the circle. Replays, however, showed clearly that there was no such obstruction but the video umpire's interpretation enabled the PC to stand.
The Indian coach conceded that a lot went against his team and India were not lucky with the referees. He was very clear, however, to point out that searching for excuses is not the best way forward and in order to win India need to convert whatever chances come their way.
Positive retrospection is the need of the hour and as we head into a long season ahead with the World Cup scheduled in December, India still has time to make amends and end the year with a blaze of glory.