In an otherwise bleak period for Indian hockey, the only player who has stood out with his performances has been Sardar Singh. So it was ironical that it was the skipper who stood in the way of what would have been India’s biggest result in close to five years. Sardar’s rare error inside the ‘D’ resulted in Thilo Stralkowski scoring the equalising goal for Germany, denying India a morale-boosting win.
That, in a way, summed up India’s failing fortunes in recent times. Since 2010, India haven’t managed a win against the elite hockey nations like Australia, Holland, Germany and Spain — even their second string sides. The slight advantage they enjoyed against the Tier II teams — England, New Zealand, Belgium and even Argentina – too is now lost. They have even failed to beat Ireland last year.
One can dissect the performances however much they want — fragile defence, mediocre midfield, toothless strikers, poor goalkeepers — but the harsh truth is that the team does not belong to this level. Embarrassing defeats to England and then the Black Sticks in Delhi this week has reinforced this point, if the performances at London Olympics and last year’s World League semifinals weren’t enough.
Perhaps, that’s because India simply does not have the players who are technically and physically adept to meet the requirements of the modern game. Yet, when the Hockey India League begins 10 days from today, the performances of these players will be frantically celebrated. The fumbling forwards will suddenly seem like world class strikers. All because of the quality assists by some of the top foreign players.
If anything, the 3-3 draw against Germany in the Hockey World League will reassure newly-appointed coach Terry Walsh’s belief in his team’s abilities to execute the game-plan. However, the fact that India stand no chance of winning against Australia in today’s quarterfinal shows where things stand.
(Mihir is a senior correspondent based in Mumbai)