June 2011: Michael Nobbs takes charge of the Indian senior men’s hockey team
Inaugural Asian Champions Trophy (September 3-11 2011):
Nobbs’ first assignment was the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy held in Ordos, China. India’s first outing under Nobbs began on an auspicious note as they spanked China 5-0 and remained unbeaten in the league phase, which included an impressive 5-3 win over Korea to march into the final.
In the title tilt, the Rajpal Singh-led side outdueled arch-rivals Pakistan 4-2 in penalty shootout after both teams were locked goalless in regulation time. Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh emerged as the hero in the shootout, producing two crucial saves of Abdul Haseem Khan and Shafqat Rasool.
Fair to say, Nobbs passed the first test with flying colours.
Three Nations tournament in Australia (October 26-November 3, 2011):
The highs of winning the Asian Champions Trophy soon evaporated as Nobbs’ boys under new captain Bharat Chetri turned in a listless showing in the double-leg Three Nations tournament in Australia.
India were handed a 3-8 walloping by Australia in the first leg – their biggest defeat so far in international hockey – and were then drubbed 0-5 by the Kookaburras in the second leg. India squandered a cosy 3-0 lead against Pakistan to settle for a 3-3 draw in the second leg after playing out a 1-1 draw in the first leg.
India’s inability to convert that 3-0 lead into a win cost them a place in the final, which the Greenshirts surprisingly won against Australia.
The Champions Challenge tournament (November 26-December 4, 2011):
The Champions Challenge tournament held in Johannesburg was the next assignment for Nobbs. India were denied a direct ticket to the 2012 Champions Trophy by a Tom Boon’s last-minute goal as Belgium rebounded from being 1-3 down in the second half to win 4-3 in the final – incidentally, both teams played out a 3-3 draw in the league.
India played free flowing hockey in the league phase scoring two big wins – 7-4 over South Africa and 7-0 over Poland. Despite the disappointing final defeat, the performance of the Nobbs’ boys was seen in positive light. Of course, India were handed a wildcard entry to the 2012 Champions Trophy where they sprang a big surprise finishing fourth.
Five Test series against South Africa (January 16-22, 2012):
Nobbs tried out a plethora of youngsters in the five Test series against South Africa ahead of the 2012 London Olympics qualifying tournament. Kothajit Singh and SK Uthappa made their senior international debuts with the latter making a big impression even scoring in his first international game.
India began the series on a whirlwind note, romping past the South Africans 4-0 in the first Test. India won two more Tests in hard-fought contests and lost and drew one to win the rubber 3-1. Nobbs got a fair idea of India’s bench strength ahead of the Olympic qualifiers.