Indian Hockey ascended new heights in 2016
The men's, women's and junior Indian hockey teams all won championships, and the current year has been great for Indian fans of hockey. India finished the year on a high with the Men’s Junior World Cup triumph but there were plenty other shining moments in the year. Let’s look back to the players and teams in an illustrious year of Indian hockey.
Hockey India League (HIL)
India’s own pet event with franchise-owned city-based encounters has attracted a lot of attention from major players across the globe. Kalinga Lancers were the new addition to the Hockey India League (HIL) whereas Ranchi Rhinos (who were bailed out at the last moment purchase and renamed Ranchi Rays) stood first in the league standings.
However, Punjab Warriors, with their impressive forward line, outshone every other team to take the coveted trophy after having failed to do so in the last 2 editions.
Ace drag-flicker and defender Rupinder Pal Singh won the player of the tournament, while Sumit Kumar was awarded the ‘Upcoming Player of the Tournament’. Armaan Qureshi, Pardeep Mor, Harjeet Singh and Mandeep Singh were among other Indians who managed to impress the selectors and were picked for subsequent tournaments.
Men’s Champions Trophy 2016
This tournament saw the introduction of multiple rotating captains as Sardar Singh was rested. India put in a relatively young team, resting Rupinder after losing Lakra to injury. Harmanpreet Singh and Surendar Kumar were as cool as a cucumber, showed no nerves and did a more than decent job overall in the defence. Mandeep Singh was the top goal scorer for India and was later rested to prepare for the Junior World Cup.
The 36th FIH Champions Trophy held in London, UK had a finale worthy to be called the finale of this showpiece event. In the final, India couldn’t get the better of the world no. 1 side, Australia, in the penalty shootout. However, they were the dominant side in the 60 minutes of open play, attacking the Australian goal relentlessly.
Moreover, India earned the final spot after edging past multiple opponents owing to their brave play. It was a sign of the flexibility and skill that this team had developed to give the 14-time winners Australia a run for their money!
Rio Olympics - The gala event of the year!
The Men in Blue played a 4-nation invitational tournament in Valencia, Spain to try out various final permutations and combinations before the Olympic squad selection. Ace defender Birendra Lakra, unfortunately had not fully recovered from his knee surgery and hence was not selected in the final 16 of the Rio squad.
The Indian Eves had qualified to the Olympics after a long gap of 36 years. The men, on the other hand, were buoyant after their recent Champions Trophy exploits. It was a perfect setting for Indian hockey to set centre stage. The team management tried out different strategies, tactics and approach, including the use of a sweeper keeper in 3 of their matches.
India had transformed into a flexible and fit team, a welcome change from the rigid structure that was routine over the years. Maybe the overall result was not that heartening for fans but the performances put in were top notch and showed how much they improved as a team over the last few years!
Asian Champions Trophy 2016
India being the highest ranked nation amongst all other teams knew they had to win this tournament. They did this in style by not losing a single match throughout the tournament! Head coach Roelant Oltmans made the players versatile and quick to adapt to any situation. This was evident in this tournament as India lost many players due to injury and Akashdeep, who was initially rested, was given a new midfield/playmaker’s role.
It was heartening to see the grit in defeating Korea eventually in the penalty shootout of the semi-final after India had earlier drawn against them in the league. The Men in Blue finished the tournament with two victories against Pakistan including one in the final. Moreover, the win was also sweet given the fact that India had avenged their 2012 final loss to Pakistan in the same tournament. Rupinder Pal Singh was both the top scorer and player of the tournament.
Women - Matching the men!
The Indian Eves, on the other hand won the final 2-1 against China in a thrilling fashion in the last minute courtesy a Deepika Thakur goal to send Indian fans into delirium! It was also Diwali and both the victories added to the already festive mood back home.
The series Down Under
A warm reception from fans, felicitations and cash rewards from the board would have been reassuring for the girls as they undertook the toughest challenge of the year – the tour to Australia. Both the men and women team posted a spirited performance despite facing the world no. 1 side in Australia.
The Indian Eves achieved a first by defeating the Australian on their home turf courtesy a 1-0 win. Throughout the test series, they showed some gritty performances. and were leading until half-time only to concede later on and let the momentum shift to the Aussies. Deepika was duly awarded as the Player of the Tournament for her on-field antics.
The men finished 3rd in the four-nation tournament by defeating Malaysia after having lost close encounters against both the Kookaburras and Kiwis. However, they fought back superbly against the Aussies to draw the two-match test series which was again too close to call.
Overall, it showed the Indian dominance in spurts and showed that more work is needed to match the consistency of the top teams in the world.
The Junior Men’s World Cup win
After a 15 year long wait and 2 years of meticulous planning, India won the Junior World Cup! India became the first host nation to lift the trophy as they convincingly defeated Belgium 2-1 in the grand finale.
It was total dominance throughout and a series of comebacks in the knockouts which showed how tough these young guns are and their performances went a notch higher in each game.
One has to admit that this is by far a supremely fit and technically superior unit in years! All the hard work and efforts over the last 2 years is paying off. Certainly, the resurgence of Indian Hockey is up and running! Perhaps, Oltmans realises that it is an opportune time to fast track Gurjant, Dipsan and co. to the senior team now
India has grown leaps and bounds in the last year, both the men’s and women’s team. Moreover, PR Sreejesh and Harmanpreet Singh getting nominated for the best goalkeeper and rising player of the year, respectively, is testimony to the growth this team has made in the last year. They would aim to better their performances and increase their standing in the world rankings.
First up, HIL is lined up in January 2017 and then the World Series Hockey. Indian hockey will certainly carry on from where they left off to begin the new season with a bang!