Finished last in London 2012, Hockey India now a strong medal contender in Rio 2016
A silver medal at the Champions Trophy is no small feat. Bring it on, Rio.
In the future, hockey fans will mark June 17, 2016, as the day India went on to script history and rediscovering their lost glory.
On that day, at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre in London, the crowd were all pumped up. So were the fans back home screaming and praying for Sreejesh and Mandeep, Raghunath, and Harmanpreet, as if they were Dhoni or Kohli.
With every passing minute, the excitement rose another notch. When the game finally ended, and India finished the prestigious FIH Men's Champions Trophy with a silver as congratulatory messages started pouring in on social media.
All this for hockey?
For a sport whose glories people only talk of in the past tense, as in when India won six Olympic gold medals in a row between 1928 and 1956, this was a breath of fresh air after decades of stagnation.
Sure, Indian hockey used to be the stuff of legend. But this unique distinction had gone for a toss. On top of that, for the first time in eight decades, India had failed to even qualify for the Summer Games in Beijing 2008.
Since 1980 Moscow Olympics, where they clinched their eighth gold - the team hasn't got near the podium. With this bring India's last chance to garner the much-needed support of the nation ahead of the all-important Rio 2016, the boys did not disappoint in an exhilarating final clash against Australia.
Two months back, a dominant Australia posted a convincing 4-0 victory over India in the summit clash to win the 25th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. The World Number 1 continued their impressive form in the group stage encounter against India winning 4-2 a day before.
But in the gold-medal playoff, the fans saw a team with newfound confidence. What they were not aware was the fact that they were witnessing history.
India reached the final of the Champions Trophy for the first time since its inception. The last time we fetched a medal, that too a bronze, was way back in 1982 at Amsterdam.
To regain the past glory of Indian hockey, what is of prime importance is the long-term planning and structure. That is what exactly is in place now. And here's where the story begins.
In London 2012, Team India had a disappointed outing. Their performance kept on spiraling down throughout the tournament. Their performance saw them being unable to beat even a single team in the preliminary round.
Since then the Indian team has performed to their full potential which has lead to more people following the game. Take the example of badminton and wrestling. After Saina Nehwal and Sushil Kumar won us medals, people started following the game more closely.
Same with Sardara Singh and his troops.
After the disastrous London 2012 campaign, a lot of things have changed in Indian hockey
India entered the re-building phase.
In the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, India reached the final before going down to Australia again. India then qualified for the 2016 Olympics after grabbing gold at the Asian Games beating Asian rivals South Korea and neighbours Pakistan. Their first gold in 16 years and then in the Hockey World League, India finished third behind Australia and Belgium in the final standings.
Sardara Singh at the age of 26 became the oldest player in the team. SV Sunil, PR Sreejesh, and VR Raghunath were all fresh in the team. We had the likes of Akashdeep Singh and Rupinder Pal Singh who just broke into the senior squad.
The junior programme has also worked pretty well since then. The transition of young players from junior to senior level has been smooth. Harmanpreet Singh, who was adjudged the Youth Player of the Tournament at the Champions Trophy is a prime example of that. With young players such as Harjot and Talwinder Singh coming up, the senior players are always on their toes.
The team has learned from the top hockey nations of the world and has incorporated their style into theirs as well, as evident during the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh and the Champions Trophy in London.
PR Sreejesh has been in top form in the last two years. The stand-in captain is an able stopper and motivator. He has led from the front, helping the team out of many troubling situations by pulling off some magnificent saves.
Rupinder Pal Singh and VR Raghunath are one of the most feared drag-flickers of the world at this moment. They have scored a large chunk of India's goal in the past few years.
The engine of the team, Sardar Singh controls the midfield and plays the role of the senior most member of the squad. Undoubtedly, he is one of the most important players in the current Indian outfit.
SV Sunil has both electrifying pace and skill. The 27-year-old is swift and accurate, pierces defences with considerable ease. Ramandeep Singh and Manpreet Singh both know the basics of the game quite well and are here to stay.
With India flying to Spain to participate in a six-nation tournament ahead of Rio Olympics 2016, there is scope for plenty of improvement in the squad to achieve the best in the days to come.
This is a game which doesn't require an individual but what it needs is the tremendous team effort and behind it the crazy and energetic fans. Exactly what this team has.
Come again let us show our love for this beautiful game in August. The real test which started four years ago will be measured now.