Indian men’s hockey team: Familiar pain after early promise

Indian men’s hockey side, for all their improvements, are seemingly stuck in what looks like an inescapable vortex.

Published: 24th June 2017 07:43 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th June 2017 08:01 PM   |  A+A-

India need to start beating higher-ranked teams consistently, and more at major tournaments, to validate their improvements | PTI

Express News Service

CHENNAI: THE Indian men’s hockey side, for all their improvements, are seemingly stuck in what looks like an inescapable vortex. Losing to higher-ranked sides as well as a continuing failure to progress deep in knockout events.

The stats do not make good reading if you are even remotely associated with Indian hockey. In the 46 matches (excluding bilaterals) versus the world’s leading sides (see table) since the beginning of 2014, they have won just eight. They have lost 30 for a loss percentage of more than 65. Combine the draws and losses, and it goes up to 82.6%. That means the result is a foregone conclusion even before the teams line up for the national anthem.

The other white elephant is India’s record in knockout games. In 12 such matches at world events since 2014, they have won only three (two draws, seven losses). The style of play may have witnessed an upturn in recent years, but the albatross around India’s neck refuses to budge.

Former captain Viren Rasquinha blames it on consistency and a failure to consistently string a competitive 60 minutes. “They do play good hockey, but you need to put together a decent 60 minutes,” he tells Express.

“To win when playing the best teams, showing your quality in patches is not good enough. You have to hit the ground running. Against Netherlands (last group game at World League Semifinals), they started slowly. They had a bad two quarters and the match was gone.”

That’s a reason why India struggle to overturn classier opposition. Against the other sides, they can fluctuate from good to bad in the same game and still win. “Higher-ranked teams will punish you even if you have one bad quarter,” Rasquinha adds.

The Men In Blue’s record when playing Australia establishes that point. They have played them 13 times since 2014, winning just the once. The common mantra to sweep aside those numbers is India’s record versus fellow Asian superpowers like Korea and Pakistan. But Rasquinha says we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to Asian sides.

“The sad part is that Asian hockey standards have fallen. South Korea did not even qualify for the quarters, while Pakistan and Malaysia are not in the top 10. So it’s not really an achievement to say we’re the best in Asia. Our benchmark should be the top six — Australia, Belgium, Germany, England, Argentina, the Netherlands and to an extent New Zealand.”

Wins against them, according to the 36-year-old, will come only after Roelant Oltmans’ men discover a key ingredient: belief. “I think we lack a bit of belief when we’re playing the likes of Australia and Netherlands.”

With a host of tournaments lined up over the next 18 months, Rasquinha wants the team to start collecting medals on an industrial scale. “We need to be ambitious. Our aim should be to win medals in every tournament. If we don’t manage it, I’ll call it a failure.”

swaroop@newindianexpress.com

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