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Ride only going to get tougher for India

You expect a nasty surprise or two when the Indian hockey team is on the road, trying to find a way into the Olympic Games. But in the just-concluded qualifiers in Delhi, thankfully, there was just one sweet little surprise: the Indian team itself.

After a long time, it rolled like a well-oiled machine, enjoying the wind in its face and taking every hurdle in its stride; it was fast, it was energetic and bursting with ideas too. The stands were also full and every delicate feint, every mesmerizing dribble was cheered raucously.

For just a little while, it seemed like the good old times, again.

But, alas, we can’t break into a jig already: this is just the beginning of the journey; the destination is still very far and the ride is only going to get tougher and rougher from here. Worse, the signs are still very ominous for Indian hockey.

Its officials are, like always, falling over each other to stay in power; they just don’t seem to understand that this is a wonderful opportunity to pluck the game out of the ashes. Instead of giving their full support to the players, they are trying to subvert them thanks to a lucrative league.

It’s really a surprise that the players performed so admirably, even though they had a gun to their head; sadly, even at this point, they don’t know if they will be on that plane to London, if they will be allowed to play in the World Series Hockey.

The good news is that they didn’t let those thoughts bother them; they played like men possessed and overcame every team with finesse and authority. Of course, it was a weak field and, apart from Canada and Poland, nobody was expected to test them.

But India didn’t slow down or ease the pressure even for a moment: they attacked from the start and the 44 goals show that they are on a different curve. The coach had promised that he would amalgamate India’s traditional strengths into the modern game and he did precisely that.

It’s surprising that it took Indian hockey such a long time to find its soul. Michael Nobbs has done wonders in the little time he has been with the team: the players looked fitter, faster and hungrier. They understood the importance of playing as a unit, and the attacks came all from all sides and in all forms.

But even he realizes that bigger players and more powerful outfits won’t give him so much space or time. Germany, Argentina and Spain will defend much more robustly while Australia and Holland will counter with more speed and more energy. Goals will not be so easy to find and that’s when India will face their first big test.

Sandeep Singh was brilliant, converting almost every penalty corner; but even he realizes that other defences will not be so porous. And although Raghunath scored too, India will need options and variations during PCs; otherwise, it will be easy to thwart them.

India’s midfield was sharp and controlled the game smartly; the forwards moved into the right places to create chances. But the defence needs to tighten up. There will be many more counter-attacks , and they will come with much more purpose and force. Do they have the verve and nerve to cope with them? Can they stop the penalty corner specialists?

The road up to the Olympics is going to be critical: how the administrators resolve their differences, what platform they provide to the team and how hard the coach can push the players will determine if the hockey dream can be realized. Here’s hoping for some more surprises, and not any more nasty shocks.

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Posted by on Feb 28 2012. Filed under Sports News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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