For the first time in many years, the Indian Hockey team entered the Olympics with an air of expectation surrounding them. The recent success in the World Hockey League and a silver medal at the Champions Trophy led to many expecting them to break their voodoo of the Olympic games after a stretch of 36 years.
The results were quickly followed by a facelift in the FIH rankings as the Blueshirts entered the tournament ranked 5th, and deservedly so. And going by the first three games, they have certainly lived up to their billing.
After the first three games, India sit pretty in third position in Pool B after eeking out victories against Ireland and Argentina while being denied a deserved point against Germany in the dying seconds. It would, in fact, only take a miracle to deny India a chance to advance into the final eight.
Here are five things we have learned from India's play in the first three games:
One of the things that have really hindered India in their previous Olympics was their execution on the pitch. Whilst possessing some really technically strong individuals, they seemed to fall apart on the field when it came to executing.
A perfect example would be VR Raghunath. The Kannadiga was a shambles during the London Olympics, coming under a lot of flack for a number of costly mistakes. In years to come, he has become a real cornerstone at the back and it showed again in this game. The defence, barring the fourth quarter of this game has held a strong fort especially in the last two games with Surinder Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Kothajit Singh and Rupinder Pal Singh chipping in whenever required.
In fact, barring the final quarter of the game against Argentina, the defence had given away only a single penalty corner in the last two games.
The midfield, especially Manpreet Singh, has caught the eye for rotating the ball swiftly and allowing the likes SV Sunil, Nikkin Thimmaiah, Ramandeep Singh and Akashdeep Singh to go on the counter as soon as possible. With the ball moving back to front in a blink of an eye, Roelant Oltmans’ tactic of middle pressing has looked even more impressive.
Impressive with the penalty corner
This was the first time India went into the Olympics with three prolific drag flicking options as the drag-flicking duo of Rupinder Pal Singh and Raghunath were joined by the young Harmanpreet Singh. And this made them one of the most feared sides when it came to penalty corners.
Three games in and we know why they have built up such a reputation. Out of India’s 6 goals in the tournament so far, 5 have come from penalty corners. While Rupinder and Raghunath bundled in three against Ireland, Rupinder was again on target against Germany’s Nicolas Jacobi without a prayer as he brought India on level terms.
Against Argentina, it was again from the penalty corner with which India opened their account, though not in the planned way. A miscued routine led Chinglensana thrashing the ball in. But then again, who is complaining?
Not afraid of being physical
The Indians have been rubbing shoulders with the big boys in both the hypothetical as well as literal sense. They have had an air of confidence about them and have not been afraid of dishing it out with their physical play. This feels like a reflection of the Roelant Oltmans coaching which has enabled them to come out of their shell and play to their best although at the risk of stepping over the line on a few occasions.
However, going forward, they will have to keep an eye on their aggressive side. In the game against Argentina, India ended up with three green cards and another yellow, and a stern warning for Surinder. This meant that India played 11 of the 60 minutes with only 10 men, which will be punished when they meet against the big boys going forward.
Giving your all can never be frowned upon. But, the Indians should learn to harness their energy. Controlled aggression is the call of the day and hopefully. the Indians will be able to channelise their aggression better in the games to come.
Cause for concern: The forward line
Going into the tournament many believed the forward line to be India’s biggest cause for concern with a true goalscorer missing. Three games on and the spotlight has not been on them due to the team’s good performances. But one can’t overlook the fact that the forwards are yet to score.
While the likes of SV Sunil, Thimmaiah and Ramandeep have been impressive on the break and with their nifty stickwork, they are yet to create many scoring opportunities worth remembering. Whilst Nikkin Thimmaiah missed a gilt-edged opportunity against Germany that came back to haunt them later, Akashdeep meanwhile didn’t have his shooting stick on hand in this game.
In fact, it was Kothajit’s opportune flick that sought out the back of the net as the Indian forwards got muffled in the melee of players in the opposition D. If India are to worry the big shots like Netherlands and Australia going forward, their best way of defending is to defend from the front and that will only be possible when the Indian forwards find form. Roelant Oltmans and the billions back home in India would certainly hope it’s soon.
An air of confidence
Psychology plays a huge part in sports and in the biggest of stages like the Olympics, one certainly needs to be psychologically prepared to take the game to the next and believe that they belong. The sense of belonging amongst the best in the sports have seemingly lacked in Indian Hockey teams of the recent past. But, this team seem nonplussed and truly believe that belong with the elite of the competition.
They have executed their plans and with results in recent times also coming their way, they have felt comfortable in dictating the terms during the games rather than just sit back and try and hold back the irresistible force. They are making other aware that they are here to play. With three good performances and six points in the bag, the Indians have certainly made others stand up and take notice.
When PR Sreejesh and co. jetted out from India, the Indian skipper had spoken about how he expected 11 captains on the field, which meant that the team expected everyone to take a responsibility on the pitch. And so far everyone can hold their hand up regarding that.
Whether it be Manpreet taking the onus in midfield, Harmanpreet showing maturity beyond his years or Ramandeep and Akashdeep tracking all the way back taking some painful hits in the process, everyone seems to be on the same team and taking an onus to take India forward. This can only be a good thing.