Sandeep Singh and Sardar Singh hold the key for Indian hockey team at Olympics

Sandeep Singh and Sardar Singh hold the key for Indian hockey team at OlympicsIf any country has ever exerted their dominance in any sports at the World stage, it has to be India in hockey. During the period between 1928-1980, Team India won 11 medals in the Olympics, including six at a row from 1928-1956.The sport has won India more medals than all the other sports combined ever.

But since 1980, the game has however lost its sheen and ever since, every Olympics that India had been to, the country just wondered if that could be the year for them to get back to their winning spree and exorcise the ghost of the past. But then success however kept on eluding them and the game hit its all-time low in the Beijing Olympics 2008, when they even failed to field a team. Since then it had been a wait for four agonizing years and India are back in the hunt again. However the question arises again that can it be the Olympics that the country has been waiting for 32 years.

India qualified for the quadrennial event after they won the qualifying tournament held in New Delhi in February. Well they did play well but then the fact cannot be diluted that they had to play against relatively weaker sides in the tournament, allowing them to dominate the event. The real test of character begins now.

Barring the qualifying event, India was not seen in best of touches in the run up to Olympics and had mixed luck in the tournaments they played. They ended up last in the Olympic test event held in London including a humiliating 12-0 loss to Australia but then showed the resiliency to win the bronze in Azlan Shah Trophy. India is currently in Europe for test events and are going through mixed phase there.

While the whole country has their hopes pinned on the team, somewhere down the line they know how difficult task it is win a medal in the mega event. India have been placed alongside winners of 2008 Olympics Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Korea and Belgium. Belgium ranked 13th is the only lower ranked team in the group. India open their account against Netherlands in the tournament and it would be a real task for the team to qualify for the knock-out stages.

While the whole country remains upbeat about their chances, the brain behind the team Michael Nobbs said that good performance from his boys is what that would please him. “We are currently ranked 10th in the World and anything better than that is a good performance. I want to see them play good hockey and that is enough to satisfy me. We would be playing against the best hockey playing nations present on the planet and expecting a medal at this point is highly unrealistic,” said Nobbs.

Talking about the group he said, “This is the tougher of the two pools and the boys know it. Our first match against the Dutch would hold the key. The way we played in Azlan Shah, if we can maintain it and luck stays on our side we can move to the next round. None of the teams in the whole tournament can be said as the best side barring Australia. They are the best side of the World and a strong contender.”

Nobbs appointment to the team is perhaps one of the best things to have happened in Indian hockey over the past few years and he has instilled the attacking style of hockey into the team. But then whether they can sustain for 70 long minutes playing the same kind of hockey would be a thing to see.

Ignace Tirkey, the seasoned Indian campaigner however has said that India even though have become very fit, it would be very difficult to maintain the same attacking style for the whole match. But then they are sure they would be on it by the games. “We have become very fit and our endurance has increased very much. But then we still would have to work on our fitness and have to make our completely capable of playing 70 minutes of attacking hockey. We are sure we could do it and it would not be a problem” said Ignace.

His views have been echoed by Nobbs as well and even he said that the team had been practicing for the same for a long time and they should ready for it.

India would depend a lot on the duo of Sandeep Singh and Sardar Singh. Sardar, who was named in the All Star team for two consecutive years by the FIH, is the heart of the side. His ability to pierce the defence with his inch perfect passes and his agility and speed makes him a real threat for the opponents. And talking about Sandeep, there is hardly anyone in the team or to say world who could match his drag-flicking skills. His conversion rate is very high and he showed it in finals of the qualifying tournament where he scored five goals and all through penalty corners. And if India can earn short corners on regular occasions, then things could get very difficult for the opponents.

And even Michael Nobbs holds these two in high regards and feels that they hold the key to India’s success in the Games.

India’s only weak link in the tournament would be their defence. It is a known fact and has been seen in past that the defenders are not amongst the fastest in the game. Ignace acknowledged the problem and said,” Our defence is indeed not good and we know it. We have been working hard on it and the Dileep Tirkey’s association with the team as our manager would help us a lot. He will help us with the defence. When we keep on playing against ourselves, we do not know where we go wrong but then if someone experienced Dileep can tell us, we can surely improve.”

Even goalkeeper PR Sreejesh said that there is a problem with the defence but then they are working hard on it. “Things cannot be made alright in a day, but then we are working towards it. Since now we have an experienced person on board, I am sure if he can tell us where we are going wrong we would surely be able to rectify it. When we are playing, we failed to realize our mistakes but if someone tells us as to what is wrong it would help us a great deal,” said Sreejesh.

India go to the Olympics with great hopes and the whole team is in great spirit and upbeat about their chances, but then reality is would be indeed a great task at hand and they would have to show great character to end the medal draught and return glorious.

Indian Sports News Network