5th August 2021, a day that everyone thought would change the future of Indian Hockey. But nothing much has changed since then. Except for players getting some handsome money as rewards, the improvement in the structure of the game hasn’t been noteworthy. Many fans voiced their opinion of bringing back the Hockey India League (HIL), but it hasn't been possible probably because of the pandemic.
The opportunity for hockey to become the premier game in India is still not lost. The next two years should be extremely crucial for Indian Hockey, with so many top-notch tournaments lined up back-to-back.
Four tournaments that could again help Indian Hockey get back its lost glory
Out of all these tournaments, the FIH Hockey Men's World Cup 2023, which is going to be held in Bhubaneswar, again, will be India’s biggest chance to foray into every Indian household. This is definitely not going to be easy. But after their success at the Olympics, the Indian Men’s team would be high on confidence to capture any trophy that comes their way.
The countdown for the Hockey World Cup has already started, and the Men in Blue must have set their eyes on that coveted trophy. The only way Indian Hockey can change is when enough revenue comes into the game and matches are played and telecast at regular intervals.
Hockey has a good fan base in India, but not as great as cricket, football and kabaddi. Expansion of the game is necessary and that is only possible when hockey is known to everyone in India.
There can be no better time than these two years as the Hockey World Cup and Olympics will happen in 2023 and 2024 respectively. This will be a very busy year for the hockey teams and it is extremely important to carry the momentum ahead without disappointing the fans with their performance.
The first hurdle for India – FIH Pro League
India begin their campaign in the FIH Pro League against France on the 8th of February, 2022 at Potchefstroom, South Africa. The team will be led by seasoned campaigner Manpreet Singh, while drag-flick specialist Harmanpreet Singh has been appointed as his deputy.
Some of the top Indian players who were rested during the Asia Cup in Bangladesh in December will be seen in the line-up for this four-match South Africa tour.
India’s matches in the FIH Pro League will continue until June, where they will be facing some of the top European teams like England, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Spain.
These matches will be extremely important for the Indian side as that will not only give them good game time but will also give the Men in Blue a clear picture as to where they stand before playing in the bigger tournaments.
India, ranked third in the world, will face France, ranked 13th, and South Africa, ranked 10th. These four games shouldn’t be any difficult task for Manpreet’s boys seeing the form they are in and the ranking of their opponents.
With the Commonwealth Games starting within a month after the end of the FIH Pro League, there can be no better tournament than this to gain confidence going into the CWG.
Australia and New Zealand have pulled out of the FIH Pro League citing Covid-19 issues, virtue of which India remains one of the favorites to win the league. Currently, England are at the top of the points table with six points in their kitty.
This will be India’s first assignment of 2022 and they would definitely want to take baby steps before jumping onto the big stage. After playing four matches in South Africa, India will return to play matches against Spain on the 26th and 27th February 2022. With the women already having won their first two games against China, the Indian men would leave no stone unturned to follow in the path of their counterparts.
The last time India faced France was in the 2015 Fintro Hockey World League Semi-Final Antwerp, where India won the match by 3-2 goals. India will play against them on the 8th and 12th of February, 2022 at 09:30 PM IST, while the Dutch will challenge the mighty Indians on 9th and 13th Feb, 2022, at the same time (09:30 PM IST).
The last time both teams faced each other was during the Finals of the FIH Men's Series Finals Bhubaneswar Odisha 2019, which India won 5-1 to seal a spot for the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers Odisha 2019. The overall head-to-head record (since 2013) belongs to the visitors, with India winning all three matches against the hosts.
Indian hockey fans have been barred from some good hockey after the Olympics and this tour should be a good platform to get things back on track.
Matches will be live on Star Sports Select 2, Star Sports Select 2 HD, and Disney+Hotstar.
Goalkeepers: Sreejesh PR, Krishan Bahadur Pathak
Defenders: Harmanpreet Singh (Vice Captain), Amit Rohidas, Surender Kumar, Varun Kumar, Jarmanpreet Singh, Jugraj Singh
Midfielders: Manpreet Singh (Captain), Nilakanta Sharma, Hardik Singh, Jaskaran Singh, Shamsher Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad
Forwards: Mandeep Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Akashdeep Singh, Shilanand Lakra, Dilpreet Singh, Abhishek