Gritty girls steal the spotlight

Controversy and disappointments -- both on and off the field -- have been constant companions of Indian hockey for the last two decades and 2013 was no different with just a few streaks of optimism.

The now customary defeats against big teams, a rare win here and there, administrative tussles, a foreign coach bowing out after failing to drive the team forward to the intended destination and the baptism of Hockey India League (an IPL-style tournament) — the year saw it all before reaching a predictable bottomline – mediocre with plenty of work to do.
While the men failed to make much of an impression despite having an expensive support staff at their disposal, the women outshone their compatriots to run away with the bragging rights.

The junior women’s team took everyone by surprise when they won a historic bronze medal at the Junior World Cup in Monchengladbach, Germany. Although Neil Hawgood fielded quite a few girls with considerable experience from the senior side, the achievement brought cheers to a nation that is on a desperate hunt for success in the national game.

The senior side then built on the momentum, edging past China in a penalty shootout to win the bronze at the Asia Cup in Kuala Lumpur -- a consolation for not qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in the Netherlands. They capped the year on a positive note though, nailing the silver medal after losing to Japan in the final of the Asian Champions Trophy at Kakamighara.

The men started the year with a flourish by topping the World League Round 2 tourney in New Delhi but thereafter success was few and far between leading to the ‘resignation’ of coach Michael Nobbs.

They finished fifth in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in March where they could only manage two wins -- both against Pakistan -- from six outings. More disappointment was in store three months later at the World League Semifinals in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Needing to finish within the top three to secure a berth for the 2014 World Cup, India failed to muster a single win in the group stage before going down to Spain via penalties in the fifth-place playoff that put their hopes on tenterhooks. Soon after, a clueless Nobbs ‘chose’ to go back home to Australia as High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans took charge of the team for the all-important Asia Cup.

India did show some spunk there but eventually went down to Korea in the final. Despite that, the Indians booked their berth for the World Cup thanks to Australia’s win in the Oceania Cup, a soothing balm which otherwise could have caused another gnashing wound in the ailing national game.

The junior boys raised a lot of expectations when they triumphed in the Sultan of Johor Cup but came a complete cropper in the World Cup at home this month, finishing a dismal tenth.

Off the field, players smelt good money and fans witnessed good action with the inception of the Hockey India League. With a galaxy of stars from the hockey world converging in the country and the league gaining the nod from FIH, players and fans can hope for top-class action.

India also won the hosting rights for the 2018 World Cup but that won’t count for much if the players can’t stand toe-to-toe with the big boys. A glimpse of what is in store will be seen in January at the World League Final in New Delhi which will also be the baptism of Terry Walsh ahead of a crucial season.

Comments (+)