2012 raised new hopes for Indian hockey
New Delhi: The bottom-place finish in the London Olympics marked the lowest ebb of the year for Indian hockey, but 2012 ended with a lot of promise and hope for the erstwhile kings of the game.
The national game, until an RTI application revealed that India had none, endured a roller-coaster of a ride over the past 12 months.
After a positive start to the year in the Olympic qualifiers at home, the eight-time Olympic champions came up with their worst-ever showing in the quadrennial event in London.
A young team under Michael Nobbs, though, infused some life back into the sport riding on its impressive outings in the FIH Champions Trophy in Melbourne and the Asian Champions Trophy in Doha.
After their disastrous Olympic campaign, the fourth-place finish in the prestigious Champions Trophy and the second spot in the Asian Champions Trophy came as a soothing balm for Indian hockey, which is slowly and steadily trying to get its footing back at the international level.
But their nightmarish campaign at the Olympics, six successive defeats, will always remain as the talked-about topic of the year.
If failing to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics was a heartbreak, the London Games turned out to be a major humiliation for the players and administrators of the game, which plunged into depths of despair.
The fact which hurt India most was that London was the venue where the country won its first of the eight Olympic gold medals in 1948.
Post London, heads were expected to roll and it didn't come as a surprise when the national selectors gave the boot to a host of senior players, including skipper Bharat Chettri and ace drag-flicker Sandeep Singh, and instead decided to build a team for the future.
An inspirational Sardar Singh turned out to be just the man to lead a young Indian team which to got some belief back.
Under Nobbs' able guidance and Sardar's leadership, India lifted themselves up from the dark abyss and made it to the semi-finals of the prestigious Champions Trophy for the first time since 1982 after starting as a wildcard entrant.
But the same set of boys failed to defend the Asian Champions Trophy title, losing 4-5 to Pakistan.
The second-place finish in Doha, however, helped India end the year more or less on a bright note.
Nobbs, understandably, is very happy with the performance of his young wards and insisted on the need to play against quality opponents frequently.
"We wanted to build up the base. If you look at the Australians, Germans they have a very big base. We are looking for a team in Rio in four years time. The question we have to ask is that by picking a player now will he be available for Rio?" he had asked.
"Will he be good enough in four years time or will he be old? Keeping that in mind, the selectors decided that we will pick and build a team for the future. I am happy with the competition but I would like to have more players competing for positions," Nobbs said.
"We also need to play a lot against top teams if we wish to return to the top league."
Off-the field also there were reasons to rejoice as the long-standing struggle for power between between two warring federations – Hockey India and Indian Hockey Federation – took the backseat this year.
In a first, Hockey India introduced retainership fee for players and gave away central contracts to 32 of them in both senior and junior section.
In another path-breaking move, HI felicitated 34 yesteryear stars of the game with a one-time benefit of Rs two lakh each for winning gold medals in the previous Olympic Games.
Indian hockey got another ray of hope this year in the form of the Hockey India League, a professional five-team franchise-based league.
The event will start from January 14 and will be played across five cities of the country before culminating on February 10.
The league, featuring some of the top names of world hockey such as Australia captain Jamie Dwyer, Dutch legend Tuen de Nooijer and a galaxy of Indian players spearheaded by Sardar Singh, has got the backing of corporate houses with Wave Group (Delhi), Sahara India Pariwar (Lucknow), Jaypee Group (Punjab), Patel-Uniexe group (Ranchi) and Dabur India Ltd (Mumbai) buying the five respective franchises.
The players' auction for Hockey India League (HIL), held on December 16, saw the five competing franchises shelling out thousands of dollars to buy players – sums previously unheard of in Indian hockey.
Introduced with much fanfare the HIL is seen a panacea for Indian hockey which has the potential to do what IPL has done to Indian cricket.