The ‘feel-good factor’ about the Indian men’s hockey team has been conspicuously missing for years. Remember, it’s been more than 34 years that the Indian hockey team managed a podium finish in a major international hockey tourney – the 1980 Moscow Olympics was the last time India bagged a medal (a gold) in a big-ticket event, of course it’s a different matter altogether that the triumph is not talked about ‘glowingly’ as the event featured a depleted field with many top teams giving the event a miss.
The 1975 World Cup win before that was the biggest achievement of India on the hockey pitch. Since all these years, there is optimism every time India heads into a major event, which translates into a pall of gloom when they return home be it an Olympics, World Cup or Champions Trophy.
The feelings were no less than different this time around as hockey buffs were expecting the team to have a ‘respectable’ World Cup if not anything ‘more’. Mind you, Hockey India (HI) on its part has done its bit to ensure the team got the best possible ‘preparation’ for the big-ticket event. One is no way trying to defend Hockey India, but only seeing things in perspective. A long-drawn two phased camp sandwiched by an exposure trip to the Netherlands a month before the World Cup (last year also the team went to the Netherlands for an exposure trip before the Hockey World League Semifinal Round in Rotterdam) under head coach Terry Walsh smacked off a feeling that the team was indeed ‘well prepared’ to come hard at their opponents in The Hague.
Foreign coaches in India often get the ‘stick’ for not delivering no matter whether a coach is four, five months or one-year old in his job. Terry Walsh will surely experience that like some his predecessors like Jose Brasa and Michael Nobbs did. No coach has a magic wand to turn around the fortunes of a team and the same applies to the captain of a side – in this case Sardar Singh. A coach or a captain is as good as his team.
India should look at the ‘bigger’ picture and must realize that they cannot break into the top-three straightway. The team’s immediate focus should be on beating teams like England, Belgium, New Zealand, Korea or even rapidly improving Argentina and up their world ranking – a ranking leap gives any team dollops of confidence and self-belief and once India improve its ranking, they will be much more ‘mentally strong’ to match the Aussies, Dutch and the Germans. The idea should be to break into the top-six bracket and gradually take it from there.