India seeks place among best at Hero Champions Trophy
It is no secret that World hockey wants India at their best not only because of their stellar record of the yesteryears, but simply because hockey has the world’s largest fan base and one of its biggest global sponsors in Hero.
The last of India’s eight Olympic gold medals in 1980 came just two years after the birth of the Champions Trophy in 1978 and India has never won this premier competition – their best being a third place in 1982 and they have been fourth seven times. Not really a great record for a country that feels hockey arguably evokes more ‘emotion’ than even cricket.
Yet, there is no mistaking that Indian hockey is trying to find its feet on the global platform. Not only has India been hosting a clutch of tournaments – ranging from World Hockey League to Hero Champions Trophy and the Junior World Cup – but has also seen a surge in terms of domestic interest with the Hockey India League, which boasts participation of world’s best stars.
If the Asian Games success of 1998 in Bangkok was not built upon, things seem better now. Beginning with the silver medal of Commonwealth Games in Glasgow to sealing their place for Rio with the Asian Games gold in Incheon, Korea at the expense of arch-rivals, Pakistan, India have been making significant strides.
A fourth place at Hero Champions Trophy in Bhubaneswar and then another fourth place at World League semi-finals in Antwerp, Belgium added to the growing belief that India has it in them to move back into the elite zone.
There has been a refreshing change from the erstwhile policy of “regular cutting-and-chopping” of coaches. More recently, Dutchman, Roelant Oltmans, seemed to have settled in. Oltmans with credentials of leading the Dutch to Olympic and World Cup titles in 1996 and 1998, seems to have understood the virtues of a low profile and no loud pronouncements.
Before the team left India, Oltmans guardedly commented, “It is important that we approach the tournament not just with a view to winning it, but also to execute our tactics well, and learn from past mistakes and keep evolving. This will ensure that as a team we are prime placed when we reach Rio, physically, mentally and tactically.”
The rotation policy, too, has gone down well – after PR Sreejesh was seated for the 2016 Azlan Shah, where India were second, it is now star player Sardar Singh to get some well-earned rest for the Champions Trophy.
India meet Germany in the first match at 4 pm (8.30 pm IST) on Thursday.