2014 was truly one of the best years one can remember for Indian hockey. It’s not often that we see the national team spike the guns of the world’s top four teams in a single year given the dwindling fortunes of the team over the past few decades.
It won’t be at all ‘unfair’ to suggest that the national team really ‘took off’ under coach Terry Walsh, who took charge in early 2014. This is not to undermine the contributions of Hockey India High Performance Manager Roelant Oltmans. He had stepped in as stop-gap coach and guided the national team to glory in the 2013 Asia Cup in Ipoh, helping the nation win a World Cup berth.
Terry Walsh did a world of good to Indian hockey
Ask the staunchest critic of Indian hockey and even he will tell you that it was Terry Walsh who really inculcated a sense of competitiveness in this side. The team showed ample signs of climbing up the ladder at the 2014 World Cup, where the 9th place finish hardly reflected the kind of ‘fight’ the boys had put up.
Late goals against higher ranked sides like Belgium and England meant that India had to settle for draws – games they could have won. The team went on to pip another higher ranked side Korea by a comprehensive 3-0 margin in the classification match for the ninth and tenth places.
India were nearing their peak form at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, where they fought hard against world champions Australia in the league phase and lost narrowly 2-4, throwing enough indications that the team was ready to take on the ‘best in the business’. The manner in which India had clawed their way back after trailing 0-2 against higher ranked New Zealand in the semifinals and won 3-2, proved the team was indeed heading in the right direction. Of course, India ran out of steam in the final against Australia and lost 0-4.
Gradually hit peak form in Incheon Asiad
They did not appear to be in vintage form in the initial stages of the Incheon Asiad, even losing to Pakistan. But by the time the business end of the tournament drew nearer, India were beginning to hit top form as they nudged Korea by a solitary goal in the semifinals and later accounted for Pakistan 4-2 in a shootout in the final. A title win also allowed India seal their berth in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Rare Test series win over Australia
Perhaps the biggest achievement of the Indian team was beating Australia in their own backyard in a four Test series 3-0 after having lost the opening Test 0-4. Yes, Australia were without few of their key players. But even without them they were a strong force and it took a ‘big effort’ from India to chalk up a rare Test series win in Australia.
The high of the Australia series was diluted by the exit of Terry Walsh and Roelant Oltmans had to step in and take charge of the boys in the Champions Trophy. The national team reached only its third Champions Trophy semifinal and could have made it to the final if not for the controversy-marred semifinal game against Pakistan. The performance showed that the team was playing as a unit no matter whether it was a new coach or a well-settled coach.
Looking ahead to Sultan Azlan Shah Cup
2014 has seen rapid strides taken by Indian hockey and it remains to be seen whether new Dutch coach Paul van Ass can replicate the same great run in the upcoming Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.