2018 was considered to be the year of reckoning for the Indian Men's Hockey Team. The year, which had three major tournaments lined up for the team, brought with it the opportunity to redefine the sport in our country.
A first gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, direct qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics via the Asian Games and an opportunity to be crowned World Champions in front of their were in line for the team. But it's safe to say the Men In Blue haven't begun the year on the right note.
India were firm favorites for a podium finish at the Goldcoast Commonwealth Games and came in with a lot of confidence to Australia.
After a Bronze Medal finish in the Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar and with the return of stars like PR Sreejesh and Rupinder Pal Singh, the team had reasons to believe they could break the hoodoo and win the Gold at Goldcoast.
But then from the first game itself, it was evident that the team were not up to their best. A draw against Pakistan, after leading 2-0 at the break, was not the ideal start for the team.
This was followed by a thrilling 4-3 win over Wales, but the fans felt the game should have been an easy one for the Men In Blue.
Another victory with the same margin against England did keep the hopes of a medal alive, but the team self-destructed in its semi-final clash with New Zealand and the Bronze Medal playoff with England.
Even though the year isn't over and there are two more major tournaments coming up, India would feel they have missed the opportunity to lay down the marker as one of the top teams in the world.
Let's have a closer look as to what went wrong for the Men in Blue at Gold Coast:
#3 Shaky defense
In all the matches, if one thing that did not look right for the team it was their men at the back. Even though Sreejesh was in inspirational form, pulling off fantastic saves, the men in front of him just could not get their bearings right.
The defense was at fault for conceding soft goals and committing the most basic mistakes. This came to fore in the semi-final match against New Zealand, as all the three goals scored by the Blacksticks were from the direct consequence of defensive lapses.
The team seemed to miss some calmness at the back and could have done a lot with the presence of players like Dipsan Tirkey and Birendra Lakra who were surprise omissions from the squad.
Tirkey, the younger of the two defenders from Odisha, has shown maturity and strength in the backline for India since making debut last year.
It is safe to say that the Men In Blue could have also missed the presence of a certain Sardar Singh, who has recently made a shift to defense from his preferred position in midfield. The former Indian captain could have used his experience to settle the nerves in his teammates and be a leader on the field, both which the team was lacking at Goldcoast.
#2 Penalty Corner Woes
The struggles from short corners just do not seem to leave the Indian team. What's more surprising is the fact that apart from Rupinder and Harmanpreet Singh in the team, India also had the likes of Amit Rohidas and Varun Kumar, who are equally dangerous on their day.
Yet, the results were depressing.
From a total of 39 Penalty Corners throughout the entire tournament, the Men In Blue converted just 10 of them meaning the conversion rate was just a paltry 25%.
During the match against Wales, India scored three goals from a total of 13 short corners and the Welshmen scored the same amount in the game from just four chances they were awarded.
The team was also one dimensional in their approach when it came to PC's which gave the opposition defense to rush out and close down the threat with relative ease.
With the likes of Gonzalo Peillat and Loick Luypaert winning games for their teams almost single-handedly through short corners, this is one area that the Indian team will look to rectify ahead of the next two major tournaments.
#1 Misfiring forwards
Apart from the veteran SV Sunil and the upcoming Dilpreet Singh, none of the Indian forwards looked at their very best coming into the tournament.
While Gurjant Singh had a rare bad outing on the international stage, the more established names like Mandeep and Akashdeep Singh have been going downhill in terms of form.
Akashdeep, in particular, would feel his place in the squad could be in serious jeopardy. The forward, who was the highest paid Indian in the 2015 Hockey India League auction, has been guilty of missing golden opportunities in the recent past, and Goldcoast was no exception.
Once tipped as the biggest prospect in Indian Hockey, Punjab forward's best return was the Hockey World League Semi-final in London last year where he scored five goals.
With the emergence of Dilpreet Singh and the presence of forwards like Ramandeep Singh, Armaan Qureshi, and Affan Yousuf, it wouldn't be a surprise if the forward is dropped for the Asian Games in Jakarta this year.