With just two days left for the Rio Olympics to begin and an equal number of days for hockey to take centre stage, let’s look at the task at hand for the Indian Men's team as they pursue a podium finish!
India's striking force is lacking form, highlighted more in the pre-tournament friendlies in Spain (6 nation invitational tournament and also the friendlies against Spain just before landing in Rio).
The team needs someone to step up and capitalise and seize every moment on the pitch to dictate terms and hoodwink the opponent’s defence. Much like the late Md. Shahid, we need a forward with such skill and touch that everything he does seems surreal and out of the world. Nostalgia bemoans as one recollects this beautiful and skill based phase; the golden era of Indian Hockey.
There is no doubt that our frontline looks up to this legend as a paragon and would like to emulate him. SV Sunil can capitalise on his raw pace and flexibility and use it to maximum advantage to create goal scoring opportunities for other forwards. Akashdeep needs to watch his close control skills to dodge the rival defenders.
Nikkin and Ramandeep need to show their poaching abilities, sensing every goal scoring opportunity at the drop of a hat! Only then that the combined package of our current forwards can be revered like Shahid by millions of Indian fans across the world.
A medal at Rio Olympics 2016 would be a fitting tribute to this legendary hockey player from the current Indian team. Hope our strikers strike not just form, but gold!
Of leaders both on and off the field!
Sreejesh, the defensive wall will lead India from behind! But the team is set to play with rotating captains and we definitely have many leaders. As coach Roelant Oltmans said,
"From now on, we will share captaincy. Sreejesh is the captain but he will never wear the band during matches. Sardar, Raghunath, Sunil and Manpreet will wear it. We worked on the group of captains to make sure on and off the pitch, more responsibility is taken up by more players."
The idea is to share the responsibility and approach a game collectively. This will build a good team spirit and a healthy morale. The players will draw even more inspiration after they get a chance to bump into and meet some of their idols at the Olympic village. Their wish list ranges from meeting Abhinav Bindra to a certain Usain Bolt! Hope these meetings empowers each one of them with more focus, dedication and motivation to attain larger goals not just in Rio but in life!
A test of the all-round abilities and fitness levels of the players
Coach Oltmans has plenty of surprises up his sleeves, given the experiments he is carrying on with the team in the last few tournaments. He has been tinkering with not just the team formation but also the players and their playing positions. Be it running back or bursting ahead to supplement other players in their defined roles and tasks, he wants every player to become versatile and complement each other on field.
Harmanpreet Singh up front, especially in the dying stages of the match and also Chinglensana and Kothajit, need to raise the ante and join in the attack as and when the team requires them. Moreover, the duo of Devinder and Manpreet also need to step up from their defensive duties and score, especially in the big matches.
But the most exciting strategic shift from Roelant Oltmans is to play show-stopper Sardar Singh in the forward line, a finger licking prospect for all fans. His skills, calmness and composure up front would be more than handy to feed in the balls to other strikers that make up the attacking trio up front. A versatile player like him will also help to ease out a lot of the pressure off the current, temporarily out of form forward line.
The fitness of players will be tested in such a gruelling tournament but with similar weather conditions, I believe the Indian team has a slight advantage than their counterparts. Moreover, with everyone battling to brush aside Zika virus fears in Rio, the last thing to scare a player is illness or injury. Hence It is important to get acclimatized to the climate as soon as possible.
As is with any sports and big tournaments, it often helps to have a team who is hungry to win and prove themselves every time they are on field. And the current group of players precisely represent that! They have an appetite to pounce and feist the mighty teams on any given day.
SV Sunil stated in an exclusive interview:
"I want Australia. I want them in the semi-finals and I want to beat them bad.”
Australia in the quarters or knockouts; India needs to take this challenge head on. After all, for winning a medal we have to defeat the best teams, the sooner the better! So be it the Kangaroos, Great Britain or for that matter any other team, bring it on!
Prayers, hopes and wishes from a billion hearts!
The players were touched by the support they received at the Bangalore Airport. A perfect send-off for the entire team!
Touched by the support our team received at the Bangalore Airport! Thank you, everyone! Rab Rakha! #Hockey #Rio2016 pic.twitter.com/n2c3SlhLF2 — Rupinder Pal Singh (@rupinderbob3) July 23, 2016
Here is another quote by Sunil about the tremendous support the side will have from home.
“We have so many people praying for us. Cheering for us. Why should we have pressure on us? We have played against the best and have shown that we can beat the best. With the upswing we are on, I feel we will get positive results.”
With a billion hearts rooting for their success, there is nothing to look back and no stopping them now. With many medals from the sport of hockey in the past, it is perhaps time to get another one at the Olympics.
It will also help to build on the excellent work that the Indian team has been doing in the last one year and translate it to an era of good hockey, having a skilled bunch of players at his disposal.
Let’s hope that the Indian team does justice to their potential and brings a lot of joy not only to the nation but also to all fans of this beautiful game of hockey on a whole. Chak De!