Indian hockey habitually swings from one extreme to another. The performances at the Commonwealth Games gave an impression that the team was doomed, but the last seven days have proved it was a mere blip. En route to winning the silver medal at the Champions Trophy on Sunday, India continued its supremacy over Pakistan, defeated Olympic champions Argentina and showed tremendous fighting spirit to hold much-fancied teams like Belgium and Holland to draws. The only defeats came against Australia — once in the round-robin stage and then in the final on Sunday, where they lost in the tie-breaker. It was one of India’s gutsiest performances against Australia but even their best wasn’t enough to beat the world champions.
After a tumultuous two months — which saw players turn on their former coach, who was eventually sacked — this result will calm things down. But India shouldn’t be satisfied by it. For the hockey world, the only two tournaments that matter are the Olympics and World Cup — everything in between is treated as a preparation for these major championships. So Australia will not brag about the 15 Champions Trophy titles, just like Germany won’t beat itself up for missing a podium finish at a World League. These countries raise their game to a higher level in a major championship, which is what India needs to do to be counted among the hockey elites.
When India won the silver medal at the 2016 Champions Trophy, there were hopes that it would reflect in the team’s performance at the Olympics. But the team flopped miserably in Rio. This has been a recurring trend. There is no doubt that the team is heading in the right direction. But it is now time to step up, like major hockey nations do. The World Cup, which will be held in Bhubaneswar this November-December, will be the acid test. If India cannot raise its game there, then the Champions Trophy silver will be without much shine.