With Virat Kohli and his boys playing against England in the home test series, I am hoping that the Junior Hockey World Cup will find its share of viewers and followers. By a few, I mean a few thousands. In a populous country like ours, few translates into thousands or maybe millions.
India’s junior hockey team has this opportunity to make up for failing to break the medal jinx at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. But will the Colts make the most of this occasion? That is undoubtedly the million dollar question. To be honest, it is the only question as far as the World Cup is concerned.
So will India emerge as the winner in Lucknow and deliver fresh hope to Indian hockey?
Harendra Singh’s boys will play against England, Canada, and South Africa in their group matches. The top two teams will go on to the quarter-final. The math is easier than expected. Two wins are what we need to make it to the semi-finals.
All 16 teams will enter the field with one aim – to win. There will be matches where David will slay Goliath, and the world ratings disrespected. We can only hope the boys can punch above their weight and bring down higher-ranked teams.
The Colts will come out against Germany, Australia, and higher-ranked teams with guns blazing. The talent in the midfield comprising of Harjeet Singh, Santa Singh, Nilakanta Sharma and Sumit is expected to take us far. The forward line with the likes of experienced Mandeep Singh, Gurjant Singh, Parvinder Singh, Ajit Kumar Pandey, Armaan Qureshi, and Simranjeet Singh are expected to dominate the proceedings. The penetrative power of Dipsan Tirkey and clinical penalty strokes of Harmanpreet Singh could galvanise the sleeping giant to rise again. Varun Kumar, Vikramjit Singh, and Gurinder Singh can provide much-needed confidence to the two custodians – Vikas Dahiya and Krishan B Pathak.
Time to recall the glory days of Indian hockey as the team gears up for another World Cup. India dominated the game even before independence. What Brazil was in football, we were in hockey. Although the senior team won eight Olympic gold medals and the World Cup in 1975, the victory in Kuala Lumpur 41 years back was our first World Cup win and last World Cup medal until 2001. The triumph at Hobart was special because it was the first major triumph for India after the Moscow Olympics and 1998 Asian Games. Also, it was the first major win for India in any FIH event.
India had a tally of 31 goals in the tournament and conceding only 11 goals. Deepak Thakur was the tournament’s highest scorer with ten goals, including a hat-trick in the final. One of India’s best drag flicker Jugraj Singh scored seven penalty corners to set a benchmark for the future drag-flick specialists of the country. It was a special victory because the boys emerged unscathed out of crunch situations. It served as the springboard for achieving more success in future.
The recent performances of the team have been encouraging with impressive performances in Russia, England, Australia, and Spain. Varun Kumar scored the maximum goals in India’s successful campaign in Valencia. Harmanpreet Singh has been nominated for the 2016 Rising Star of the Year award from the FIH. Mandeep Singh scored three field goals in India’s historic Champions Trophy silver. Vikas Dahiya and captain Harjeet Singh have shown they are ready for the highest level after starting for the senior team this year.
In the last edition three years back, the lads finished at a disappointing 10th spot despite all the hype. The next year, Harendra Singh was appointed as the chief coach of the junior men’s team keeping in mind the 2016 Junior World Cup. After winning the Sultan of Johor Cup trophy in 2014 with this team, he had set his goals. The former Indian international has not looked back since then.
His coaching career has stretched for more than 15 years, and achievements with Indian hockey includes a total of eight gold medals with senior and junior teams, five silvers and nine bronze medals in various international tournaments.
Even though the statistics negate India’s win, the young blood has proved in 2016 that their spirit is far from predictions. The mental make-up of the junior team has changed tremendously in the past few months. This bunch have started to believe in themselves that they have the capability to beat the top teams in the world.
Most of the players in the team come from modest backgrounds and hockey in many ways has provided them with a new lease of life. The fact that people have already started taking notice of them and interest in their stories is just the start they needed. Their success at the World Cup will only motivate thousands of young boys across India to take up hockey and show that one can indeed make a career out of hockey.
Luck favours the brave. The preparatory matches that India recently played with the Netherlands and Germany were just that – preparatory matches. They were meant to check out combinations and get in the right frame of mind for the big time. The losses won’t hurt because they are about to do things that will count.
Sports has known stranger heroes. I won’t be surprised to see the boys rattling the timbers of many other fancied teams. As senior team coach, Roelant Oltmans said, the boys will be taking one game at a time, but they won’t stop themselves from pulling out all the stops and going for broke. In the players’ mind, every match is there for winning. It’s now or never.
Harjeet Singh and the boys are up for the challenge and so should we be ready to cheer them all the way. People like me are with the boys, hoping for a happy ending after a two-year long preparation and wishing them all the best to come out with heads held high.
Let us see how things shape up in the next few days. This will be crucial because India needs a hockey success, just as a dying man needs to breathe.
But till then, let’s sit back, relax, and enjoy.