Indian hockey at CWG 2018 : Can Sjoerd Marijne's boys put an end to their final phobia?
Delhi, 2010 : With a hard fought win against England in a penalty shootout by 5-4, the Indian men's hockey team had finally managed to put themselves on the podium for the first time in the Commonwealth Games, 12 years after this sport had been introduced. However, their golden dream was brutally cut short by the boys from Australia, who whitewashed them by a whopping margin of 8 goals to nil.
Glasgow, 2014 :
Four years later, the opponents were the same, and once again, India had to fight it out to book their places in their 2nd consecutive finals, something they had not achieved in any other major hockey tournament for years. The team was better prepared, they had better players. Yet, they failed to overcome the Aussie challenge. Though they managed to reduce the margin by half the amount of goals they suffered the previous time, India still lost to Australia by 0-4.
4 more years later,
As the Indian hockey team awaits the opening of the Commonwealth Games, the task for the current coach, ex Dutch player Sjoerd Marijne has task chalked out: Can he put an end to the final phobia which India is suffering at CWG for the past 8 years? Can he end the unbeaten streak that Australia has had since Kuala Lumpur edition of 1998 when field hockey was introduced for the first time at the Commonwealth Games? Above all, can he put up an Indian team, that is as magical as the one we've seen at Incheon Asiad 2014, or the FIH Hockey Champions Trophy 2016?
A golden opportunity for Marijne at hand:-
Unlike the previous coaches, the Indian hockey team has benefited a lot since 2014, with the different coaches who have brought out the different strengths that have made Indian hockey an Asian powerhouse once again.
Now with Sjoerd Marijne, the Indian team looks all set for another impressive fight at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, to be held from 4th of April to 15th of April, 2018. This event is nothing less than a golden opportunity for Sjoerd Marijne to prove himself as an ideal replacement for Roelant Oltmans, who is now the coach of a declining Pakistani hockey team. The one thing that makes Marijne stand out is his preference for slick, assertive [attacking] hockey, as compared to Oltmans who preferred a safe approach.
Marijne's novel, but effective approaches, have made him an extremely popular coach among the Indian boys. Though he had to face a setback at the Azlan Shah Cup, where India finished a disappointing 5th, one can't ignore the fact that it was this very man who ensured that India doesn't return empty-handed from the FIH Hockey World League Finals 2017, as India won a bronze medal by defeating Germany 2-1.
Even the semifinals that they gallantly lost against the current Olympic champions Argentina was a much more improved show from their previous encounters, with bad luck being a bigger reason for their loss than bad play. So if Marijne's novel methods lead India to another consecutive final, and even give India an unexpected gold medal, he shall cement his place as the coach for the team till the Tokyo Olympics
Getting gold at CWG is not a cakewalk:-
However, for both the Indian team and their coach, winning a gold medal at CWG, especially with the likes of Australia, is easier said than done. Even though India's first match in the Commonwealth Games is against a relatively weaker Pakistan, Marijne and his boys must not forget that their coach is now Roelant Oltmans, who was chiefly instrumental in leading to consecutive wins against Pakistan, not losing a single match since 2015.
If India manage to overcome Pakistan and trounce Malaysia and Wales by significant margins, their next significant, if not major challenge, shall be England, against whom India need to keep its tendency of crunching down in check. None would forget the previous encounter between these two teams at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, where India drew the match against England, despite getting more as many as nine penalty corners. Effective penalty corner conversion is therefore essential for India if they do not want to suffer another setback like their previous encounters.
Apart from the above matches, if India matches all the required criteria, and enters the finals, they need to make sure that they do not let Australia even a single chance at their goal, almost something on the lines of the FIH Champions Trophy 2016 finals, where an extremely brilliant display of Indian hockey forced Australia to have to fight it out with India for the gold medal in the penalty shootout.
The onus for this lies on the shoulders of Marijne, who needs to make sure that either India doesn't concede goals to Australia, or force Australia to fight it out in the penalty shootout. Though it's not easy to implement, Marijne refuses to consider it impossible either. In his own words, "I can't say anything about past but we have moved closer and closer to Australia so why can't we win (against Australia). It's all about belief."
Can India live up to this belief? Only future has the answer.