For a nation once unarguably the gold standard of world hockey, the silver in the Champions Trophy offers much hope, more so with the Olympics on the horizon. It might yet turn out to be a false dawn, but the portents this time seem more genuine and hence, there is reason to keep track of this bunch of youngsters. They demonstrated cohesion, looked like a team not riven with infighting and backroom foul play, as had been their wont in the last two decades. The players, effervescently shepherded by stand-in skipper P.R. Sreejesh, displayed zeal, and nervelessness in the last quarter.
Look no further than their doggedness in the final against Australia. To peg them down to a goalless draw in regulation time is a real improvement on the customary thrashings at the hands of the world champions. And more encouragingly, this was achieved with the help of a callow back-line, ably guided by the experienced V.R. Raghunath, whose defensive skills have considerably improved in the last two years. They still made a few elementary mistakes, but they would only benefit with more exposure. The midfield too gave a good account of themselves, despite the absence of talisman Sardar Singh. S.V. Sunil provided the creative spark, and the unassuming forward showed why Roelant Oltmans raves about him. In the right mood, he can be a world-class playmaker, capable of creating as well as converting goals. He was well complemented by the likes of Mandeep Singh, who seems to have shed his inconsistency.
Overall, the team ticked most boxes, and once some of the seniors return, it could pose a serious threat to the medal contenders in the Olympics. The biggest challenge from here on will be to sustain and incrementally improve the quality of play. This is a team in progress, but one that is on the right path. Hopefully, it won’t be long before the litany of woes of Indian hockey ends.