Is Indian hockey on the verge of a revival?
The plight of Indian hockey players has been an oft-repeated story since the start of the 21st century as far as providing them with the right infrastructure or the remuneration paid to them is concerned. Whether it is playing for the state or the country, the players have always been at the receiving end. Infighting among different factions of a state administration or between those governing and administering the national team has always the hurt game. But since the last 3-4 years, Indian hockey is seeing some sort of a revival which could probably be a good sign.
Hockey India is doing a decent job in providing the required facilities and infrastructure to enhance the game right from the grassroots level. Apart from this, many have expressed disappointment over Hockey India's chopping and changing policy as far as the appointment of a coach is concerned that ultimately affects the team's morale. A new coach needs time to understand every player's mindset and has to analyze every player's strengths and weaknesses and execute his plans accordingly.
Some ex-hockey players had questioned the decision of the officials in the administration over the manner in which Roelant Oltmans, a seasoned campaigner having loads of experience and expertise in coaching, was sacked in September without any apparent reason. He had done a good job, as during his tenure India's ranking improved quite dramatically, with the team sitting at the sixth position in the rankings.
It will be interesting to see how India's newly appointed coach Sjoerd Marijne goes on about executing his plans along with the team manager and former India international Jugraj Singh. His recent medal victories in the Asia Cup and Hockey World League Finals have certainly shown a positive trend.
But looking ahead, Hockey India has done a great job by introducing the Hockey India League, which has helped not only our senior players but also players from the junior circuit, as these players get invaluable tips which will help them to improve their game by playing alongside some world class players from across the globe and by playing under some well- known coaches.
Many ex-players have said that it is because of the HIL that our junior players produced some cohesive performances in the Junior World Cup last year in India that ultimately helped them win the competition. The results of this league are slowly showing on our senior team's performance too as the team is improving by leaps and bounds.
The team won silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and finished as gold medalists in the Asian Games in the same year in Incheon. They then won bronze at the 2015 FIH World League in Odisha by beating Holland on penalties and then clinched the silver medal in the Champions Trophy in London last year in June besides a gold at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia last year.
Though they finished in eighth place in last year's Olympics in Rio, there was a marked improvement in their performance from the London Olympics in 2012, where they finished at the 12th position. In this year's Asia Cup, they edged past a determined Malaysian team with a 2-1 scoreline last month in the final, before defeating Germany in the bronze medal match at the Hockey World League Final on Sunday.
If we compare the women's hockey team's performance with that of the men, it hasn't been that impressive. However, the girls have surely made an impact by producing some gutsy performances, including notching up a gold medal in this month’s Asia Cup by beating a resolute China on penalties in the final, which ensures their qualification to next year's World Cup. They also won the Asian Champions Trophy last year and a bronze in the 2014 Asian Games.
Both sides have some tough assignments in the subsequent months.The men's team will be playing in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in 2018 but their biggest test will be the World Cup, which will again be played in Odisha. The women's team too will be playing in the Commonwealth and Asian Games next year and will be quite eager to prove a point after their recent victory over China in the Asia Cup.
At the moment, both men's and the women's teams are looking like balanced units but it will all depend on how they shape up against some tough opponents like Australia, Germany, Holland, England, Argentina etc in a big event like a World Cup. Above all, it has to be seen whether the teams be able maintain the required consistency as well.