There is one question about the Indian hockey team that is asked many a time! How does this team, blessed with so much flair, manage to ‘upset’ its fans and supporters by its propensity to ‘consistently’ press the ‘inconsistent’ button?
If it was an average side devoid of ‘skills’ one wouldn’t have complained about their ‘inconsistent ways’. How do we explain India’s 2-2 draw against Korea in their Sultan Azlan Shah opener? An early lead was a boon for them but they huffed and puffed their way to an unconvincing draw, thanks to a late Raghunath goal. The forwards missed plenty of scoring chances. Korea is ranked higher than India, but this Indian team had comprehensively beaten them 3-0 at the 2014 World Cup in the 9-10th place classification game. In fact, India could have come off with a top-six finish at the 2014 World Cup if they had not leaked late goals, which saw them lose 2-3 and 1-2 to Belgium and England due to late goals in the last minute of play.
Hayward played spoilsport to Indian hockey team’s final aspirations
India looked good against New Zealand even while missing several scoring chances. The team was poised for at least a draw until Andy Hawyard played spoilsport with a late penalty corner strike to give his side the much-needed full points. These points were critical as they ensured the Black Sticks reached the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup final and subsequently crowning themselves in glory.
India refused to learn from the sloppiness of their early matches and were again done in by a late goal from Shahrun Abdullah in the game against Malaysia. The hosts sneaked away with a 3-2 win to throw India’s title aspirations up in smoke.
It seemed that the 2015 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup would pan out to be a disappointing outing for India under new coach Paul Van Ass. But the Indians choose their last league tie against world champions Australia to make a statement of some sort and reignite the feeling that the progress made in 2014 was ‘not all lost’.
After all 2014 was a dream year for Indian hockey. They had beaten Australia thrice to win a four Test series in Australia besides beating top sides like Germany, Netherlands and Belgium. And to top it all, India also won the Incheon Asiad to win the 2016 Rio Olympics berth.
Massive win over world champions Australia
The 4-2 win against Australia showed that this team can upset any opponent if they play as a unit and get rid of bad habits like loose passing, poor PC conversion, defensive gaffes and leaking late goals among others. Of course, the pulsating 6-3 win over Korea in penalty shootout of the bronze medal play-off tie will also warm the hearts of hockey fans.
But a reality check should make us ponder on the potential of the Indian Hockey team. Surely it could have done even better than the bronze medal they had to settle for. Do not get me wrong, there is no attempt to take anything away from their bronze medal feat, but this Indian team can reach for the stars!