In what can be termed as a historic moment for women’s hockey in India, the Indian women’s hockey team, despite conceding a late equalizer, managed to hold Olympic champions England to an impressive 1-1 draw in their very opening match of Vitality FIH Women’s Hockey World Cup, currently being held at Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre, London.
Given that it was the same team who had whacked the Indian by 6-0 at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, this is nothing less than phenomenal, especially when India is ranked way below than England in the FIH women’s hockey rankings. With this decision, even if India wins only one match, against either Ireland or United States, the team will be in contention for the knockout rounds, something India never entered since 1978.
After India returned empty handed for the first time in Commonwealth Games hockey in Kuala Lumpur,1998, Hockey India was compelled to take some quick decisions. Star goalkeeper, P R Sreejesh and star forward Rani Rampal were appointed as the captains of the respective Indian hockey teams for the rest of the year. Apart from that, in a rather controversial move, Hockey India swapped the erstwhile coaches of the teams with each other.
This meant that the men’s team coach, Sjoerd Marijne, was now the coach of the women’s team, while charismatic coach Harendra Singh, who had catapulted the position of women’s hockey in his short tenure, was now entrusted with the job he always rooted for: a full time chief coach of Indian men’s hockey team. The appointment is scheduled as of now till the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
However, since the coach swapping is a method tested and tried way too often in the Indian hockey, this decision didn’t go down well with the critics. Terming this decision as absurd, they doubted if either coach would even get the time to deliver the results the top body for Indian hockey wants.
However, it seems the coaches had other plans. Barely a few weeks later, the Indian women’s team departed for the Asian Champions Trophy, while the men’s team departed for the last edition of the FIH Men’s Hockey Champions Trophy. The women’s team lived up to their aura created from the AHF Women’s Asia Cup last year, which they had won in order to make the cut for the FIH Women’s World Cup, losing by a whisker to Asian powerhouse South Korea in the finals.
However, it was the men’s team who added the cherry on the cake. Entering Champions Trophy as just another team, with little hope for even making it to the bronze medal playoffs, India first crushed Pakistan ruthlessly, then shocked Olympic champions Argentina and held Netherlands and Belgium, the other two podium finishers at Rio Olympics 2016 to draws to make it to their 2nd successive finals since the historic edition of 2016.
Though they lost in the penalty shootouts to Australia, India did give the defending world champions a tough run for their money, even in the league matches, where India lost to Australia by a whisker, with a score of 2-3. Needless to say, this wouldn’t have been possible without the right men being in the right job. Coach Harendra Singh’s maverick antics, coupled by the surprise attack from the defenders, made India’s Champions Trophy a memorable experience.
This is not all. This resurgence of the explosive Indian hockey, which was once a household name in the early 50s to 70s, is coming at a very opportune time. Adding the icing on this cake of joy is the popularity of two biopics: Soorma and Gold. The former, based on the legendary comeback of famous drag flicker Sandeep Singh, is in theaters and gaining popularity for both Diljit’s legendary performance and the aura of field hockey.
The latter, i.e. GOLD, is the much more talked about biopic starring an impressive ensemble cast of Akshay Kumar, Mouni Roy, Kunal Kapoor, Vineet Kumar Singh, Amit Sadh and Sunny Kaushal among others. Directed by Reema Kagti, this biopic is based on the legendary journey of independent India’s first Olympic medal at London Olympics 1948, when the Indian hockey team whacked the hosts England left right and centre to win their 4th consecutive Olympic gold medal, and their first as a free nation.
The release date of this movie is also at an opportune moment, i.e. the Independence Day, and coincidentally, the Indian hockey team is also opening their journey at Asian Games four days after the release of this movie. Therefore, the momentum created by GOLD could surely contribute to the support needed by the Indian team for clinching the gold and booking their slots for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics 2020.
With the coach swapping proving to be highly successful, and the momentum being created by GOLD and Soorma at the right time, we are assured of one thing: the ‘bitter medicine’ of Hockey India has proved to be useful.