BHUBANESWAR: Energy, according to the Oxford dictionary, is the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity. It is the lifeblood through which all beings perform any activity. Cut off the energy and most beings wither away and die. This principle applies to the Indian hockey team as well. But when they get the energy going, they are an unstoppable force, a force of nature even.
That energy was very much at work on Wednesday as they produced a lights-out performance to take out Belgium in the quarterfinals of the World League Final. A nerve-shredding 3-2 win on penalties (3-3 after regulation time) was a just result after one of their best performances against the fellow members of the so-called big seven in a very long time.
In group games against England and Germany, Indians couldn’t execute the basics. There were more mistraps than correct passes and the finishing left a lot to be desired. The energy and the intent, two of the biggest traits that get Indian hockey, and the fans, going, was missing. Coach Sjoerd Marijne also spoke on those aspects after an abject performance against the Germans. The diagnosis was clear but the bigger question was staring at the team like a white elephant. Would they find the right medication?
They did find it in thrilling fashion in a game where fortunes swung like a pendulum on speed. India scored the opening two goals — one field and one from a penalty corner — in the third quarter. The Red Lions replied with the third and fourth in a seven-minute period they dominated. The hosts, egged on by a partisan crowd, scored the third in the same minute as the Belgian leveller to again take the lead. But the World No 3 team came back with a second equaliser seven minutes from time.
Some of Indian hockey’s most significant recent moments have come through the shootout, be it the win against Netherlands in the third-fourth match in the same competition at Raipur or the agonising loss against Australia in the Champions Trophy final, and this installment was going to be added to that collection irrespective of the result. The win not only allows Marijne and this team more time at the helm, it keeps the wolves at bay for a while longer.
Belgium coach Shane McLeod had an interesting message after his side’s win over Netherlands in the last group game on Tuesday. “Bring it on,” he said when asked about the prospect of facing India under lights. All opposition teams want to play India in India because there is nothing quite like it in the world of hockey. The Kiwi wanted to see how his team would stand up with this sort of pressure. They ultimately failed and McLeod lifted the lid on what happens to the players when they are subjected to such a raucous atmosphere.
“It was spooky,” he said. “When we scored a goal, the players looked confused. There was an eerie silence in the stands. Players communicate with each other all the time, for zoning and other things. If a few players need coaching, they look to the seniors. In this noise, that was just not possible.”
The challenge for the Indian team is to replicate the same atmosphere and then feed off that energy when they face England or Argentina in the semifinal.
In the first quarterfinal, Australia showed their superiority with a thumping 4-1 win over Spain. The latter had taken the lead but the world champions pumped in four unanswered goals including two inside a minute.
Quarterfinal results: India 3 (Gurjant Singh 31, Harmanpreet Singh 35, Rupinder Pal Singh 46) bt Belgium 3 (Loick Luypaert 39, 46, Amaury Keusters 53) via shootout 3-2. Australia 4 (Jeremy Hayward 28, Aaron Kleinschmidt 48, Blake Govers 50, 50) bt Spain 1 (Marc Garcia 20).
Thursday’s schedule: Argentina vs England (5.15pm); Germany vs Netherlands (7.30 pm)