The Indian hockey fans were left deflated when the men’s team, ranked fifth in the world, looked completely out of depth as they were humbled 7-1 by a ruthless Australia in their Group A match in Tokyo Olympics on Sunday.
The defeat has started raising questions - more on the social media - if it’s going to be another case of the hockey team flattering to deceive. Like in all the editions of Olympics in the recent past, it’s the only team sport where the India pin a lot of faith and what’s more - the current lot under Manpreet Singh had shown a welcome consistency in the last few years to carry the tag of a realistic medal hope.
The trolling is rather typical of the Indian sports fan who have started panning the team saying it’s going to be a rewind of the previous editions where the team would do well in the run-up to the Games - but eventually end up only playing for positions. Such criticism, for me, is unfair as past glory in the sport is no guarantee to succeed in an arena like the Olympics, given the radical transformation in the sport which has become so physical over the past two decades.
India and Pakistan, two of the greates hockey playing nations, have been at the receiving end of this change. India, a eight-time Olympics gold medallist, have last won a medal (gold) four decades back in 1980 Moscow Olympics while Pakistan - a two-time gold medallist - are now ranked No.17 in FIH rankings and have failed to qualify for back-to-back Games now.
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Looking ahead, India will be playing Spain on Tuesday - another fleet-footed European hockey nation - and need to shake off the scars of the 7-1 rout as quickly as possible. In the current format, four teams each from the two six-team groups will make it to the quarter finals and hence, another full points against either Spain, Argentina and Japan (they started their campaign with a hard-earned win against New Zealand) can ensure them a place in the knockout stages.
However, none of the three remaining opponents can be deemed as easy and even though India did the getter of Argentina, current Olympic champions, in the FIH Pro League as recently as in April - the Olympics have always proved to be a different kettle of fish. They need to take a fresh guard and raise the bar high for themselves - as qualification as fourth team in the group will run the risk of running into one of the powerhouses like The Netherlands or Germany from the other group in the last eight stages.
The enounter against Australia was a forgettable one, and the match was over as a contest the moment the Kookaburras rustled up a 4-0 lead after the first two quarters. Even though India came back from the 10-minute break looking to make amends after their dismal first half, their trapping and execution in the two penalty corners they received in quick succession were quite poor. They did manage to pull one back, courtesy young forward Dilpreet Singh, but field goals will never come easy in modern hockey.
A quick turnaround, hence, is the need of the hour for India...