The Indian Hockey Team, lost 1-1- (1-3), to World No 1, and defending champions, Australia, in the Champions Trophy Final, in Breda. The Hindustan Times reports that it was the 15th victory in the tournament for the Aussies, while our boys had to settle for silver.
The match report gives a blow-by-blow account of the excitement, and there are places where our team has matched the pace, possession, and skill of the Aussies. While the final score doesn’t show a victory, here’s why our national hockey team has already won.
In this edition of the Champions Trophy, the team drew against the Dutch. The match was action-packed, and the team took opportunities, and converted them, showing a stellar performance, redeeming themselves after the Commonwealth Games disaster. The 1-1 score was a victory for the team on the path to resurrection after the Gold Coast disaster. It was a contest in which the well-oiled Indian team defended in numbers, and closed gaps deftly.
The Dutch threw everything they had at the Indian team, which played its heart out.
The new hockey coach is optimistic. Harendra Singh, speaks the player’s language. The fact that the team has lost only to the champions, Australia, shows the way they have been performing. The team and the coach have the fire and desire, but something else binds them together.
Most of the team speaks Hindi and Punjabi in a way that urban Punjabis wouldn’t understand. Foreign coaches often resulted in a communication gap. However, with Singh, he speaks like them and understands them. His strategy may not be the best in the world, but his ability to push the players is unmatched.
Singh coached and motivated a young team to the Junior World Cup triumph in 2016. Many of those juniors play in the senior team now. Singh has a bond with them, which is essential if you are to push your team to victory.
And what victories, there have been!
The national team steamrolled the Pakistan team 4-0 in their first match in the Champions Trophy. In just the 26th minute, Ramandeep Singh scored, followed by Dilpreet Singh, Mandeep Singh and Lalit Upadhyay netting a goal apiece. The strikers bored holes through the Pakistani defense, while the Indian team held a tight, impermeable line, not allowing the Pakistanis to venture more than they should.
Harendra Singh is vicariously living his Olympic dream, through this men’s hockey dream team. He told The New Indian Express that his playing career’s biggest regret is missing out on the Olympic stage. However, he will have an opportunity, at the big stage, albeit in a different capacity. He was brought in as the men’s team coach, and his exploits as a mentor are exemplary. Singh is the only FIH certified coach in India.
Barely a month into his role and Singh was already setting lofty objectives, which he pushed his team to achieve. He spoke of 2018 as a crucial year in Indian hockey, with his objectives being podium finishes in the Champions Trophy and World Cup and gold in Asiad, to secure a berth at 2020 Tokyo.
This team is primed to perform well at the Olympics. They are hungry, and motivation is pouring out from all corners. Take, for instance, veteran hockey player Balbir Singh Senior’s letter, which speaks of the 1948 gold won at the London Olympics-highly significant, as it was just after independence.
Akshay Kumar is starring in the film, Gold, which is based on the team’s exploits in 1948. Slated to release on Independence Day, the movie will shed light on how India won its first gold medal in hockey, as an independent nation.
So, the team is primed, pictures are releasing to motivate them, and the coach seems fiery. Support is lacking where it is most vital–infrastructure.
When the men’s national team was in Bengaluru, with less than a fortnight to go for the Champions Trophy in Breda, Coach Harendra wrote a letter on 9th June, to the top officials in Indian hockey. He complained about the food quality. Forget about providing players with a decent diet, the Bangalore SAI Centre gave them oily food, with excess fat, bones without meats, and the worst part–insects, bugs, and hair were found in the food.
The coach had to request authorities to include mutton in the men’s meal plan. He had to state the Champions Trophy, Asian Games, and the World Cup, as reasons why the players needed good food.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Yes, this is the same India where if a top cricketer even sneezes, it hits the headlines and newspapers. The same India, where if even half a bug is found in a bowl of food, we throw a huge tantrum. The same nation’s national hockey team is having to contend with bugs in their food.
This team has been victorious in many ways apart from a score line on the board. It has climbed over obstacles like they’re nothing. Despite the players having dietary deficiencies, as revealed by a blood test, they still play their hearts out.
Take for example Sardar Singh, who celebrated 300 international caps for the country. From Sant Nagar, in Sirsa Haryana, Sardar emerged, born to a humble farmer’s family.
He played his first international during India’s 2003-2004 tour of Poland. For the last 15-odd years, Sardar has been pushing himself on the field, to make sure that Indian hockey’s flag keeps flying high.
So have his other teammates. The players, who train hours so that they can be their best for a few minutes.
The team is getting ready for tournaments, and Tokyo 2020. The coach is in place, and the players are poised. If only the infrastructure and authorities backed them up, they would probably go further. Considering that they contended with rubbish in their meals, and still came to the finals of the Champions Trophy is a victory in itself.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)