Talk of Indian hockey and the mind goes back to the glory days of Indian hockey when the team was virtually unbeatable and the opposition had no clue when they came up against the Indian stalwarts.
After winning the first Olympic Gold medal in 1928, the Indian men's hockey team was unbeaten in the Olympics till 1960 winning 6 Gold medals in a row. The team won 30 consecutive matches during this period, before losing in the 1960 gold medal match.
From then on, the gradual decline of the hockey team started with the team having not won any Olympic medal since the last Gold medal they won in the 1980 Olympics. The advent of AstroTurf accelerated this steady decline. Overall, the Indian men's team is the most successful team in the history of the Olympics having bagged 11 medals with 8 of them being gold.
But in the last few years, Indian hockey is in a revival mode. In 2016, the Indian men's team won its first-ever silver medal in the Champions Trophy and reached the knockout stage of the Olympics for the first time since the gold medal-winning effort in 1980. Not only the men's team, but the women's team is also on the upswing and have been dishing consistent performances in the last few years.
With the added support from the Government of Odisha, which is sponsoring both the men's and women's hockey team since 2018, things are looking up and the country is looking forward to good performances from the Indian teams in the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
The first step in this direction was taken last year with both the men's and women's team qualifying for the Olympics through the Olympic qualifiers. While the men had a relatively easy path as they thrashed Russia in the qualifiers, the women had to come through a tough examination against the USA team who had come back from a thrashing in the first qualification match to almost deny the Indian team a place at the Olympics. Through this win, the women's team ensured that they qualified for two consecutive Olympics for the very first time.
India make a strong start to 2020
The Indian teams have had a bright start to the year 2020. The men's team defeated a strong Netherlands in both the matches of the FIH Pro League held at Bhubaneswar, Odisha. They followed this up with fighting performances against the World Champions Belgium at the same venue.
The Indian team won the first match against the Belgians but lost a close second encounter. The team is currently in the second position in the FIH Pro League standings behind Belgium.
The Indian women's hockey team also had a pretty successful five-match tour to New Zealand. After winning the first match against the New Zealand Development team 4-0, they lost two close matches to the New Zealand senior team by a margin of one goal in both the matches. But they bounced back to beat Great Britain 1-0 and followed it up by beating the home team by a convincing 3-0 margin to end the tour on a high.
The icing on the cake for the Indian team has been the 4 individual World level awards bagged by the star players of the Indian team this year.
Manpreet Singh - FIH Men's Player of the Year 2019
Manpreet Singh became the first Indian to bag the FIH Men's Player of the Year award. The Indian men's hockey team captain got 35.2% of all combined votes to win the award ahead of Arthur van Doren and Lucas Vila.
Rani Rampal - World Games Athlete of the Year 2019
Indian women's hockey captain Rani Rampal was voted the World Games Athlete of the Year, becoming the 1st ever player from the sport to be bestowed with the prestigious honour.
"Indian hockey superstar Rani is The World Games Athlete of the Year 2019! Huge congratulations!," the World Games said in a statement.
"With an impressive number of votes, 199,477, Rani is the clear winner of the Athlete of the Year race, where sports fans all over the world have voted for their favourite during 20 days of polling in January. All in all, over 705,610 votes were cast during the poll," it added.
Vivek Sagar Prasad - FIH Male Rising Star of the Year 2019
Vivek Sagar Prasad was named as the 2019 FIH Male Rising Star of the Year. The upcoming Indian midfielder won the honour ahead of Argentina’s Maico Casella and Blake Govers of Australia.
Lalremsiami - FIH Female Rising Star of the Year 2019
Lalremsiami was adjudged the FIH Female Rising Star of the Year 2019. The upcoming striker won the honour ahead of Argentina's Julieta Jankunas, China's Zhong Jianqi and the Netherlands' Frederique Matla.
With such an auspicious start to the year, Indian hockey fans can certainly hope that this is just the beginning and the Indian hockey players can showcase their talents in the biggest stage of all, the Tokyo Olympics 2020.