Despite being at its lowest ebb, the word hockey creates a sense of excitement among every Indian. In one of very rare domination of a sport at the Olympics, India has won unprecedented eight gold, one silver and two bronze medals.
Even though the present team still has a long way to go to become one of the teams to beat, every Indian will be hoping against hope for a miracle. This may well be the first time the Indian hockey team will play in an Olympics without any medal aspirations.
After achieving the ignominy of not qualifying for the Beijing Olympics, the Indians are back in the event, where at one point of time they ruled the roost. The scene has changed since then and now the Indian hockey is in a rebuilding phase.
Struggling against much fitter, agile and faster European and Australian counterparts, a top-six finish will do a world of good for the team coached by Michael Nobbs. The present team led by goal-keeper Bharat Chetri have been improving with every international tour.
After their third place finish in the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament, their final preparation was fairly on target as they played against Spain and England. Even though they failed to register a victory against two, their performance against fourth ranked England and fifth placed Spain was credible. India are currently ranked 10th in the world.
No one can match India and Pakistan when it comes to style of play, but they haven’t been able to convert it into goals. India have one of best playmakers in Sardara Singh, who is one of the top-three midfielders in the world .
A lot will depend on how Nobbs will make use of the playmaker and his linking with the forward, especially the speedy S.V. Sunil. Sunil will be the player to watch out for as the forward has incredible ability to accelerate with the ball and at times has been asked to slow down. But the strikers’ inability to convert the chances inside the striking area has been a major cause of concern.
This where Sandeep Singh, whose drag-flick is sharper than ever, will come into play. The fate of India will heavily depend on his conversion rates. But when it comes to his skills in defence, he has proved to be a weak link. At times, Sandeep and the other drag-flicker V. Raghunath have been found wonting
This has seen experienced Ignace Tirkey being drafted into the team and at times Sardara too has played in the position of a defensive midfielder, rather than as an offensive playmaker. Otherwise, with the likes of Gurbaj Singh, Danish Mujtaba and Dharamvir Singh the midfield looks pretty settled.
The onus will be on experienced Tushar Khandker and S.K. Uthappa to find the target and have the talent to trouble the opponents. A look at the team does not justify its ranking of 10 in the world, but what has hit them badly is their inability to play good hockey consistently.
Here at Olympics, when every team will be at its best a brief spark of brilliance will do them no good. It they manage to hit the button of consistency, we will surely see them return with one of the best result in the recent times.