By Abhishek Purohit
Indian hockey is in a revival mode with the country having won the Asian Games gold after 16 long years followed by a rare Test series win against World Champions Australia in Perth Sunday.
While in the Incheon Asiad, the centre-half Sardar Singh-led team defeated South Korea and Pakistan on its way to the gold medal, the latest series win Down Under probably holds more significance because it came against the mighty Australia.
The hosts, though were playing without skipper and central defender Mark Knowles, five-time international hockey federation (FIH) Player of the Year Jamie Dwyer and striker-cum-drag-flicker Kieran Govers. More importantly, the 2004 Olympic champions are in a rebuilding phase post the retirement of master tactician Ric Charlesworth.
However, Australia still had several established stars and given the strong reserve bench of the Kookaburras, the Terry Walsh-coached Indians deserve all credit.
India’s two-time Olympic captain Pargat Singh said that the current players have been playing as a group for a long time and that is helping them getting these impressive results now.
“They were quite young during their entry into the team and now they’ are showing signs of good improvement after playing together for five-six years. It’s a very good performance from the Indian team. They will get a lot of confidence from this win and it will inspire them to do well in future tournaments,” Pargat told IANS Monday.
“Our playing structure is good. The guys are playing in a group from a very long time, If you stick to this core group of players and give them enough opportunities, they will improve. That’s what these guys have done well in the past two tournaments.”
India, who won silver in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games after losing to Australia 0-4, suffered a 0-4 whitewash in the first match but came back strongly to win the next three matches in Australia.
“Making a comeback after 0-4 thrashing in the first match was an indication that Indian players are getting better both physically and psychologically. Earlier, a good start to a tournament was very important for the psyche of our players and similarly in a match, we used to drop our heads after conceding early goals. But that didn’t happen in this series,” former Indian captain Zafar Iqbal pointed out.
“With this kind of performance, India have shown that they have worked hard on their fitness which added to their confidence. Indian team is definitely improving and showing signs of revival. But, they will face a far bigger test in the upcoming Champions Trophy to be held Dec 6-14.”
In the series at the Perth Hockey Stadium, Indian strikers, often blamed for their poor conversion rate and finish, set up the big win.
Speedy forward S.V. Sunil and young and lively striker Akashdeep Singh made up for the misfiring drag-flickers V.R. Raghunath and Rupinderpal Singh.
“It is good to see the field goals scored by Akashdeep Singh and S.V. Sunil. They are talented players and now they have improved their finishing. Indian set-piece specialists score freely against the lower-ranked teams but they flounder against big teams like Australia. They need to work even harder to improve their game,” A.K. Bansal, who has nurtured several players of the current team as junior team coach, said.
Bansal, however, refused to term the recent wins as revival for Indian hockey.
“It is too early to call it a revival. It’s a good win. We need performances like this consistently. There are a lot of positives to be taken out from the series. Though the Australian team played without some of their big players, it still should be considered as a very good win.”
Also, broadening the smiles on the faces of hockey fans, is the junior team that won the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup held in Malaysia Oct 20.