Resurgence means rising again and growing stronger. One such feat showed us the true meaning. The feat is Hero Hockey World League Finals Bronze Medal. Yes, the sport that media forgot right after the 1983 Cricket World Cup.
On 6th of December, Hockey was again in news as India clinched the Bronze Medal at one of the top-notch tournaments of FIH, most important after World Cup and the Olympics. This is much more beyond the podium. Since the rise of the team remained under the veil, I would take you where it started and the greatness, the medal talks about.
1. Champions Trophy 2002-2004
Tournament consists of top-6 teams
Indian Team showing its great form after years. Dhanraj Pillay led team with great talents like Gagan Ajit Singh, Prabhjot Singh and Jugraj Singh. After showing promising game, India, ranked 5th, finally loses its Bronze Medal to Pakistan, thrice in a row.
The team gets into internal conflicts with the erstwhile board (Indian Hockey Federation) and its members. News of mutual displease amongst players also became an issue. Retirement of Dhanraj and his men wasn’t foresighted by the poor management at the top. This led to change of nearly whole team at once. In fact, it happened twice in these four years.
While Indian Team and the board became counterparts of the bitter battle, hockey was evolving. European Teams started focusing on specific physique and the techniques to play. Already the pioneers, they were distancing themselves more and more with the sorts of the Indian Team. India, on other hand was failing appallingly.
India kept losing. Australia, Britain, Germany and Netherlands thrashed India like school boys.
Moreover, Pakistan and South Korea used to defeat with 2-goal difference Inexperienced team, poor management and penniless players. Nothing was going India’s way. The hopes for the best were already shattered. Veteran players were calling help. And then came Beijing Olympic Qualifiers.
3. 2008- The Painful Disguise
India could not qualify for the Beijing Olympics 2008. First time in 70 Years. 8-time Olympic Champion. First Champion. Any adjective you could associate. Team ranked number 14 couldn’t reach top 12 teams. Shame and disappointment.
Adding to it, International Olympic Association (IOA) de-recognises Indian Hockey Federation (IHF)
What else could one expect? Indian Sports Ministry cleared the way for formation of Hockey India.
This organisation was redesigned to address the problems of hockey in India and manage the country’s national sport.
This time, probably Indian players also stopped dreaming. Hockey India, though constituted but faced the biggest problem any Indian sport faces, Politics. Men at Hockey India chose Vidya Stokes as their President. This went horribly wrong!
Vidya Stokes was an octogenarian (aged 83) who had no sports background but a Congress leader.
Apathy was that she was chosen over Olympian Captain Pargat Singh!
Indian Team was now being coached by V Baskaran, Captain of 1980 Olympic Champion Team.
Narendra Batra now headed Hockey India. Things weren’t going good, at all.
The “atrocities” over the players now crossed the limits. Rajpal Singh, Indian Captain 2011, and his team came out in media and said that they are not yet paid with their match fees.
Team of already underpaid players was now not even being paid. Government interfered. Pay was regularised and so came the foreign coaches.
Facilities were up and ensured. India qualified for the London Olympics. Team was now gaining stability.Team had the new captain who was destined to write history 4 years later, Sardar Singh.
Team finished 12th, the last, in London. Sardar and his team was again criticised. Team needed a motivation and exposure. Fortunately, for the first time the countrymen, who cared, must have thanked Hockey India. Decision was to bring in the doctor, Terry Walsh. And he changed the game.
6. 2014- Let the game begin
Terry Walsh was a boon for Indian hockey. Accompanying him was high performance Director Roelant Oltmans. The duo made the team play the European style Hockey, focus on stamina of the men on the field. Team was still running loose in the last 15 minutes and conceded goals but if you could see what has happened in last decade, we were already half way better.
Sardar and Terry created a new team. Not in faces but places. The team which was struggling without a penalty corner specialist now had 2 in the team. Rupinder Pal Singh and Ramandeep Singh. However, Ramandeep is mostly seen working in midfield but its because Rupinder has given him that liberty. Indian goalkeeper, PR Sreejesh turned up to be the best goalkeeper on the planet. I was very delighted to hear from experts that, “If Sreejesh couldn’t stop it, nobody could”. Young boys were gearing up and India became Asian games champion and was also the first team to qualify for Rio Olympics 2016. It took 16 years for the team to reach Olympics by Continental Champion berth.
7. 2015- The First Half
The game was wide and clear. Indian team played great hockey and managed to defeat some great nations. By the start of Hockey World League Semifinals, India defeated all top-5 teams at least once.
India played good hockey meanwhile and before flying to Antwerp, India ranked 8th. At Antwerp, India played great in its leg. Although defeated by 4th ranked Belgium and 5th ranked Britain, India showed some good skills. Only few faint moments and India conceded the goal. But in totality, India reached the 4th spot and confirmed the berth to Finals by dignity.
However, an ugly spat between Narendra Batra and Terry Walsh led to the latter’s exit and Oltmans was the new coach.
8. 2015- The Podium
India now ranked 6th. For the first time in last decade the group containing India was called the group of death.
Team started poor against Argentina making similar mistakes but evolved against Germany. Team that conceded goals in last quarters was now scoring then. Team lost the other game against Netherlands.
In the Quarter Finals, India had to play Great Britain, ranked 3. India valiantly defeated to play its semifinal against Belgium. The semifinal match was very much in India’s favour except for the first 5 minutes where a mistake costed a goal. But in possession or shots on goal, India was in fair lead.
Though lost, but India played like wannabe champions India defeated Netherlands in the bronze medal match. This victory is now etched in history. Fighting what not India finished at podium. For the first time we heard commentators say that India is a contender for medal in Olympics. We now listen that India has the best midfielder or goalkeeper or right half or any other position. This medal is a dream run.
9. Where now?
Team will now play the same set of teams in Rio Olympics 2016. Team needs to show slightly more consistency and work on mistakes. India has defeated all teams ranking from top to bottom in the previous season. Even if India finished 5th or 6th, we must understand that competition becomes clash of the titans at such stage and someone has to win. India now plays at par with Australia, Germany, Britain, Netherlands, Belgium, Argentina and New Zealand, if not better. India is the only Asian Team to feature in HWL Finals and only South Korea (ranked 10th) is another team in the top- 10 apart from India.
The time India was a pioneer, we had no TVs. TV era has not seen the champions in hockey but only cricket. Our boys need some more motivation and we will clinch the Olympic Medal sooner or later.
After a long long time, we can hope again!