India at the Hockey World Cup: An outsider's perspective
The Rabobank Hockey World Cup 2014 kicks off in a couple of days’ time in The Hague, Netherlands. However, if you take a look at the leading Indian news dailies, you will be surprised to find extremely low coverage of the event. In defence of the media, a lot has been happening in the country recently – elections, new prime minister and the Indian Premier League to name a few. So perhaps they have not had any space left to cover something of lesser national interest like hockey. Of course, the same media extensively covered the news of cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar giving a pep talk to the Indian hockey team prior to their departure for the Netherlands.
Just to check the levels of World Cup fever in the country, I undertook a small exercise, and asked a few of my acquaintances the following question – “Who is the captain of the Indian hockey team?” As expected, a majority were not able to answer it correctly without the help of Google. The same people were able to name captains of most of the IPL franchises (for the benefit of readers who do not follow hockey, the captain of the Indian national hockey team is Sardara Singh, often called Sardar Singh. Interestingly, he is also the youngest player to captain the Indian team).
What a sorry state of the sport once considered as the national game! (Hockey was widely considered to be India’s national game until the ministry of youth affairs and sports in reply to a RTI in 2012 declared that India has no national sport). I sometimes wonder why we Indians show such apathy to everything that is considered national. Be it Air India, Doordarshan or Vivid Bharati, all such things are given step-motherly treatment by us. And in that sense hockey is no exception. Years of colonial rule have ensured that we like anything that is foreign and hate everything that is national.
Coming back to hockey and the World Cup, India is ranked 8th as per the latest FIH rankings. I am also an outsider to the world of hockey and have not been following it closely, but the rankings suggest that we do not stand much of a chance to get past the league stages, let alone winning the trophy.
Disappointed with this realization, I decided to take a deeper look into the format of the tournament. India is in Pool A along with Australia, England, Belgium, Spain and Malaysia. Only Spain and Malaysia are ranked below India in this pool. So it would require more than one upset for India to qualify for the semi-finals. I agree that results may not always be in accordance with the rankings but more often than not the rankings give a rough idea as to what can be expected.
As I end this piece, there are reports that a couple of Indian players have been injured in one of the practice matches. That is definitely not the best way to start a World Cup campaign, especially for a low-ranked team like India. But injuries are part and parcel of any sport and I hope the Indian team does not let this affect their performance.
Prior to the departure of the team from India, the captain was quoted as saying that he would be happy if the team finishes at 5th or 6th position. So going along with the captain, I will not have unrealistic expectations and hope that the team’s performance manages to match the expectations of their Sardar (leader).