The sport has made significant improvement in the country in recent years.
India has a glorious record in Olympics hockey. In the period between 1928 to 1964, India dictated every team on the field and received the adulation of the world for its outstanding accomplishments.
During this golden period, the world marvelled at the wizardry of great Indian players such as Major Dhyan Chand and Balbir Singh Sr. However, the Indian team has performed below expectations since the 1964 Olympics, bagging two bronze and only one gold medal.
Indian team won their last gold medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. The flamboyant Indian forward, Mohammed Shahid played a pivotal role behind that Olympic gold. He thoroughly dominated the opposition defenders on the field with his traditional dribbling skills. A staggering achievement, which was applauded even by the western players and coaches.
Ever since the retirement of Mohammed Shahid, Indian have produced several legends including Pargat Singh and Dhanraj Pillay, but they too failed to reclaim the Olympic glory. These days, whenever the topic of Indian hockey surfaces, talks veer inevitably towards the golden era of Indian hockey which has always created a high level of expectations from the team.
For the last 40 years, Indian hockey has been a shadow of its former self, struggling in the constant pursuit to outdo it. Let’s have a look at why we need to get over the golden era of Indian hockey.
Past Glory Acting As A Burden
Indian hockey had suffered a setback in 2008 when they failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. The Indian side lost to England in the qualifying tournament and once again arguments were raised about the future of the sport in India. However, Indian team qualified for the 2012 London Olympics, after an astonishing display of offensive hockey in the qualifiers with talks veering yet again towards the lost Olympic glory.
Coach Michael Nobbs had assured everyone regarding the mental and physical preparation of the team for the upcoming challenges, but the team failed to overcome the adversities at the London Olympics. India’s dreadful performance proved yet again that a long path remained to cover before reaching the pinnacle of world hockey.
At the London Olympics, the Indian squad tried to perform like a world-class team but they made silly mistakes in almost every match. They even struggled against the lower-ranked team like South Africa which clearly showed the burden of the nation’s expectations. At the Rio Olympics, India played with scarce maturity, having reached the knockout stages of the tournament after 36 years.
Continuous Changes In Modern Hockey
Till the 1976 Olympics, hockey was being played on grass at all levels with the Indian team dominating almost every other team on the field. Only Pakistan was able to offer some competition to the dominant Indian side. The Montreal Olympics was the first tournament in which AstroTurf was used in the sport, and since then, the governing body of world hockey has been continuously altering the paradigm of the game.
The introduction of the AstroTurf to the game proved very costly for India as the Indian players, who performed sensationally on the grass with their extraordinary skills, found themselves in trouble after being unable to cope with the pace and strength required to play on the new surface.
People all over the world criticized the governing body of the world hockey for this decision, as the AstroTurf suits the physicality of European and Australian players who derive strength from their raw power instead of technical skills. The AstroTurf was expensive as well and teams like India and Pakistan weren’t able to afford many turfs.
On the other hand, Australia, Netherlands and Germany were sufficiently able in that respect. To no one’s surprise, since the 1980 Olympics, these three countries along with other European teams have been dominating the world hockey.
Later on, the rules related to the duration of a match, overhead pass and corner hit changed significantly which made the game faster than usual. In recent times Indian hockey has made remarkable improvements as they achieved the fourth spot in the FIH World Hockey rankings, their highest ever.
After a disappointing World Cup campaign in 2014, the Indian side successfully secured a gold medal in the Asian Games after a gap of 16 years and a silver medal in the Champion’s Trophy after 34 years. They have also registered splendid victories against big sides in the ongoing Pro hockey league, but they still need significant improvements to win a medal at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
Increase In Level Of Competition
In the 20th century hockey was limited to certain regions but with the rise of technology and globalization, field hockey has become a global sport. During the golden era of Indian hockey, only a few teams were able to give tough competition to a world-class side like India. However, the level of competition has risen significantly in hockey over the last 50 years.
Countries like Argentina, Spain, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland and South Korea have made significant improvements in the last few decades to compete with the big guns of world hockey. At the Sydney Olympics, the underdogs South Korea surprised everyone as they reached the finals of the tournament. It was just a trailer of the upcoming excitement in the sport with new pioneers in the making.
Argentina had finished at the 10th place in the 2012 London Olympics but surprised everyone by winning their maiden gold medal in field hockey at the Rio Olympics which was enough to demonstrate the rise in numbers and level of competitors in modern hockey.
Indian hockey has also changed a lot after a debacle in the 2008 Beijing Olympics qualifiers. Recent performances of the junior team in the junior hockey world cup also serve to raise hopes with regards to the future of hockey in India.