Redemption time

Redemption time

Hockey

Redemption time

Glory seekers: Indian hockey team has an arduous task of making its mark against the best in the world during the fortnight-long World Cup, beginning in New Delhi from Sunday. File photoA tortuous journey will come to a conclusion for Indian hockey over the next two weeks in the national capital. Returning to its sentimental home after 28 years, the World Cup 2010 offers India the perfect opportunity to leave the past behind and make the push for the future, with all its uncertainties and perils.

 The past – embracing the glory of those Olympic gold medals – lost its sheen long back but a refusal to look at reality in the eye cost India not just their place in the elite list of world hockey powers but often reduced them to also-rans in major events.
 Clinging to the past, lost in arguments over style of play and mired in controversies over selection issues, the most successful hockey nation in Olympic history has very little to offer in terms of success at the World Cup. The start of the competition four decades back coincided with the beginning of the slide for Indian hockey. Bronze-medalists in the first edition in 1971 and silver-winners in 1973, India’s lone moment of joy came in 1975 at Kuala Lumpur when Ajitpal Singh’s men cornered the Cup.

 Even reaching the semifinal has proved to be beyond India’s capabilities since then with the closest being the fifth place in Sydney sixteen years ago. Clearly, Jose Brasa and team have an arduous task on hand.

 The preparations, sadly, has not been of the ideal kind and the followers of Indian hockey certainly would have experienced a sense of déjà vu when the payment dispute and the captaincy issue rocked the build-up. Important days were lost, thanks to the unsavoury episode at Pune while the unity in the team came under question over the captaincy issue, with Rajpal Singh finally getting a firm nod from the officialdom, whatever might be the opinion of his team-mates.

 ”Past is past,” is Brasa’s take on the issues. ”It’s impossible to say how all those issues will affect the team. But I can say that we overcome the problems and our focus is entirely on the World Cup. Like a journalist wanting to write the best story, or a photographer wanting to take the best picture, our aim is to come up with our best performance at the World Cup,” says the Spaniard.

 Brasa certainly has an eye on the future. In the nine months he has been with the team, the 59-year-old has worked hard on changing the approach and attitude of the players besides bringing in methods more in tune with the times.  The European tour, when India played against England, Spain and the Netherlands last year, was a learning experience as much for Brasa as it was for the players. Subsequent contests – against Canada and in the Champions Challenge – have thrown up positive signals and despite all the controversies, there is hope that the team will seize its chance.


Selection has not been an issue this time, with the team being a nice blend of youth and experience. In the forwardline, Prabhjot Singh, the only Indian in last year’s FIH World XI, and skipper Rajpal Singh will be backed by the seasoned Deepak Thakur and Tushar Khandekar while Arjun Halappa, playing in his third World Cup, brings the touch of experience to the midfield. Deep defence has been a concern but Sandeep Singh’s progress is heartening, while goalkeeper Adrian D’Souza has risen to cover up for the absence of Baljit Singh, struck by an unfortunate eye-injury.

 For India to make a mark, however, starting well is vital. More often than not in the past, India have faltered right at the start, spoiling their chances with no recovery in sight. The hosts are placed in Pool B along with Australia, Spain, England, Pakistan and South Africa and they have three big games lined up right at the start – Pakistan first, followed by Australia and Spain.

 The three matches will show where India are headed in the tournament. They have a two-two record against Pakistan in World Cup matches while their last win against Australia came in 1978. Importance of a bright start, obviously, cannot be over-emphasised, with the stress on avoiding late goals. Time and again, India have succumbed to this malaise, with the defeat in the last World Cup opener against Germany still rankling. Only a minute remained on the clock when Christopher Zeller slotted in the match-winner then.

Brasa sounds optimistic on these counts. ”We are playing a more solid game now. Consistency is the key in these games and it is very important that the team plays a consistent game over 70 minutes. From what I have seen in the practice games, they are playing a more consistent game than before,” he remarks.
 Transferring those practice efforts into real-match situations will, indeed, be crucial for India’s progress in the tournament. A Cup triumph is a distant dream but a finish in the top-five will be a definite sign of good times for Indian hockey.

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