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India's Olympic Hockey dream - A fan's take on the Blueshirts' chances

755   //    31 Jul 2016, 14:43 IST
Indian Hockey
The Indian Hockey team will be gunning for their first medal in the sport in 36 years

The Beatles sang, “In times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me”; for me, I could juxtapose the lyrics and say “In times of trouble, hockey memories come to me” (without any irreverence to the Holy Mother). Hockey means a lot to me and Indian hockey is my solace. And I know I say this for millions of Indians all over the globe.

Watching India play live at the Olympic games is in the top three of my bucket list. But, I am yet to fulfill this dream and I’ll miss the Rio experience too. It is very disappointing when you consider that there is a genuine buzz about this young Indian team and an expectation of a medal.

But, I can’t complain; from hearing Jasdev Singh commentate the 1960 Tokyo Olympics on a valve-type radio that took all of 2 minutes to “warm up”, to grainy black and white TV replays of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, to now being able to watch the games live in stunning HD 1080p resolution with spider and umpire cams. Spectacular!

Also read: A hungry SV Sunil wants to beat Australia at Rio

The viewing experience at home does not equate to being pitch-side, but it is a treat to watch the fastest sport in HD from all possible angles, where some of the fittest in the world give it all on a sea of blue…a treat for sore eyes. We’ve come a long way!

But the question is; has Indian hockey...come a long way?

This is the question, that will be answered in Rio in a few weeks.

It bothers me that there is so much written about India’s hockey prospects at this Olympic Games. There is much hype and an inordinately much smaller measure of reality. It bothers me because the hype directly equates to pressure on the players and builds up a false sense of expectation from us fans. As much as my heart would like to see India finish on the podium; my mind tells me to slow down and get grounded.

Twelve of the best teams will be there with each of them vying for the top three spots. An optimistic gambler would put the odds at one to four, a mathematician would factor in variables such as rankings, a statistician would review previous performance, and a fan would dream not only of medaling but getting the gold.

In reality, India’s prospects at these games are not as rosy as all of us would have liked them to be

Sardar Singh.jpg
India will have recent history and odds stacked against them in their quest to bring back the glory days in Hockey

Let’s see Group B closely. The participating teams are: Netherlands (2), Germany (3), India (5), Argentina (7), Ireland (12) and Canada (15). The top 4 from each group will make the quarter-finals. For India to reach the quarters comfortably, India must win 3 of the group matches and to be very sure draw one of the other matches.

Germany and Netherland are the teams to beat. If past history is any indication, India will struggle to hold, let alone beat them. India will find Argentina a hurdle and possibly beat both Canada and Ireland. Though Ireland is a much-improved and this match might actually be the most crucial for India to make the quarters.

Given India’s track record in recent Olympics and World Cups, where India has always flattered to deceive, India playing the group stage to rankings is not a given. Assuming India plays the group stage well enough to reach the quarters, making the semis is a monumental task because in all likelihood India will play either Australia or Belgium/GB based on the crossover group standings.

I have put my pencil down, as further permutations are beyond my mathematical acumen. There are many variables that could come into play and the above scenario may well be different.

Also read: PR Sreejesh dismisses the fuss about captaincy

If India makes the semis, then most likely India makes the finals. I say this because for India to make the semis the team will have to play of their skins, some of the best hockey ever. If this were to happen, then India will be on roll and full of confidence to make it happen this time.

And it’s all about confidence. Not about India’s ability, never has been.

India should have won both the friendlies against Spain on 27th and 28th July. It was extremely important to do so. Beating Spain is no mean feat as they play probably the most physical game and would have boosted India’s confidence going into the OGs. Does losing both games to Spain equate to India foundering at the OGs? No. But, winning is a habit.

And I hope India’s winning habit starts at this OGs and continues through to a podium finish!

Also read: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has high hopes for the Indian hockey team

Now, a word about our ladies who have made it to the games against all odds after 36 “long and winding” years. They seem to be shaping up better than expected. Their recent US sojourn gave a glimpse of their intent and preparation. Beating the US at their hockey mecca is no mean feat. Juxtaposing Gloria Gaynor’s 1978 female anthem – “They will survive”! I am looking forward to this team upsetting some high apple carts. In fact, this may well be the team to watch. Go ladies, make it count!  

There is hope, and like all of you - great Indian hockey supporters, I will watch these games more closely than I ever have.

Best wishes to all hockey teams. May the best win.

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An impassioned hockey fan, who dabbles in cycling, swimming, gymming, hiking, skiing and camping. Aspiring triathlete (for many decades now). Other interests include football (of the soccer kind), squash, badminton, boxing and recreational chess. In a nutshell; an undecided hockey nut. Pure and unadulterated.
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