India determined to make a mark in hockey in LO
The London Olympics provide the erstwhile champions with a golden opportunity to make up for the Beijing Games debacle in 2008, when, for the first time in the history of the game, India failed to qualify for the Olympics.
However, for a team which won its last Olympic gold in 1980 Moscow Games, the road to London has been a long, treacherous one, especially after the 2008 disaster in Santiago.
The Indians might be desperate to break their 32-year medal jinx in London, but for a side which is presently languishing at the 10th position in the world rankings, a top- six finish in the upcoming Olympics would be more than creditable and anything above that will be an icing on the cake.
No one better than India`s chief coach Michael Nobbs can assess his team`s performance. The Australian promptly quipped: "With a little bit of luck we can do wonders (in the Olympics). A top-six finish will be a great result, but we will try to finish better."
Looking at the competition, India will be a surprise package in London, and all credit must go to Nobbs who, just in a year`s time, has tottaly transformed the team and made the players battle-ready.
Nobbs brought along with him an aggressive intent, backroom approach and most importantly revived India`s original game – the attacking style of hockey. Soon after his appointment he stressed on the importance of fitness and brought along with him fellow Australian David John (exercise phsiologist) under whose watchful eyes India has become one of the fittest side in just a year`s time.
But as the saying goes "a coach is as good as his team", the job eventually rests on the 11 men on the ground. India has got a rightful mix of youth and experience in its 16-member squad.
In Ignace Tirkey and Sandeep Singh, India has got two players who have the experience of playing in an Olympics. The rest of the squad will make their debut at the mega event.
In Sandeep Singh and V R Ragunath, India has two finest exponents of penalty corners, while experienced Shivendra Singh will be the fulcrum of India`s forward line along with Tushar Khandker and SV Sunil.
The goal will be manned by skipper Bharat Chetri, but the team`s lynchpin remains playmaker and vice-captain Sardar Singh – who is the only Indian to feature in the World XI squad for the last two years.
To make their mark in the London Games, the Indians will have to produce a superlative show as they have been placed in a tough Group B along side reiging Olympic champions Germany, past winners Netherlands, New Zealand, Korea and Belgium.
Hockey in the 2012 Olympics will be played on pink and blue turf and this eventually might turn out to be the deciding factor as the multi-coloured pitch has received rave reviews from players and coaches for its pace and uneven bounce.
Apart from skill and fitness, India`s fate will also depend on how the players get themselves accustomed to the pink and blue turf.
Unlike other teams, the Indians did not get enough chance of practice on the blue turf. But the ongoing France and Spain tour and also the Olympic Test event earlier this year should give the Indians a fair idea about the pitch and climatic conditons on offer in London.