Indian hockey remains an unpredictable quantity
In London, five years ago, India had touched the nadir in Olympics hockey, finishing bottom. Four years later, India improved few notches by winning the silver at the Champions Trophy only to slip again and finish eighth at the Rio Games.
Now again in London, in the Hockey World League (HWL) semifinal round, India finished a disappointing sixth losing to Canada. India appears to be gifting World Cup spots to lowly ranked teams. Canada by grabbing the fifth spot joined Malaysia in the 2018 World Cup.
The performance graph for India so far depicts a topsy-turvy ride reflecting the unpredictable nature of Indian hockey. On a given day they win many-a-heart, but that is a rarity and on other days they just fail, which is the reality.
India’s performance at the Hockey World League semifinal round has thrown open many aspects, which chief coach Roelant Oltmans needs to introspect on and also settle for perfect combination before next year’s World Cup.
It’s always a dream to see India winning the World Cup and this time all the more because it will be held in Bhubaneshwar. Such performances as seen in the HWL will not help in realising the dream. If India were perfect on all fronts in beating Pakistan last Sunday and later in the play-offs on Saturday, they were just as hapless against the Netherlands and disgusting against Malaysia and even worse against Canada in yesterday’s play-off.
Malaysia did all the right things to floor favourites India, despite Ramandeep Singh threatening to run over the former with two quick goals. This is not the first time India have gone down to Malaysia. Very recently the Yellow Tigers had shocked India in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.
What actually went wrong in the quarterfinal against Malaysia and the play-off against Canada? The Malaysians were nippy and determined to upset India’s applecart and so were the North Americans, who defended well to keep the Indian forays at bay.
If it was Ramandeep Singh’s brace that gave hope against Malaysia, India squandered a 2-1 lead after a Harmanpreet Singh double against Canada.
India’s lackadaisical show in both the matches has cast a doubt on India’s overall capability. Compounding miseries for India were their deficiency in defence, futility in attack and lack of cohesion in the middle.
How satisfactory has been India’s overall performance in the HWL? A hockey enthusiast might feel satisfied after India trounced Pakistan, not once but twice. However, will that suffice India’s ambitions or should we look at beating bigger teams and bring home the glittering symbols of triumph?
Oltmans and the team’s think-tank have a lot to answer.
Chest thumping after trouncing the ‘weakest’ Pakistan team was unwarranted. Remember Canada too had trounced Pakistan 6-0 in the same tournament.
The big wins definitely could have made the players complacent against Malaysia and Canada and that indeed reflected on their performance. Complacency never brings desired success and this thought has to be instilled deep into the minds of the players. Coach Harendra Singh did it and found success with the juniors, why not the same for seniors too.
India are lucky to have made the World Cup 2018 as hosts or else it would have been a laborious task to make the grade, especially after such a show in London. If this trend of ‘unpredictability’ persists, India will certainly find it hard to make an impression in the home event December next year.
Hockey India (HI) as the governing body must find a way to enhance the confidence level of the players. Consistency is vital and there’s where the focus needs to be put in. Joining India in the line-up for World Cup from the HWL semifinal round were the Netherlands, Argentina, England, Malaysia and Canada.
Pakistan too appears to have virtually made it by beating China and finishing seventh. However, Pakistan will have to wait until all qualification process is over or else grab the spot by winning the forthcoming Asia Cup.
For your information
The 2018 World Cup will have 16 teams in the fray and six of them have been finalised after the conclusion of the Hockey World League semifinals in London.
Five continental champions (from Asia, Europe, Africa, Oceania and pan-America) will also make the grade.
Five more will qualify as per the FIH qualification process and it could be from Johannesburg where the other semifinal round of the Hockey World League will be held from July 8.
However, the final picture of qualifiers will emerge after the final round of the Hockey World League, which will be held in Bhubaneshwar later this year.