If the World Cup and Champions Trophy are overlooked, the Commonwealth Games men’s hockey competition is one of the toughest events, going by the rankings of the participating countries. Six of the top 10 teams, as per the latest FIH rankings’ list, will be there in Delhi next month, adding to the sheen of the mega event.
Australia are ranked No. 1 in the world, England are 4th while New Zealand, Pakistan, India and Canada are the other teams in the top-10. Hockey has never been accorded the position it deserves and made it to the Games’ fold only in 1998, a good 50 years after the start of the Commonwealth Games. The Indian Hockey Federation’s focus too remained on the Asian Games - held in the same year and a qualifying event for the Olympics. Thus, the fourth place finish in 1998 remains India’s best finish in the CWG.
But with Delhi hosting the Games, winning a medal at home is a matter of prestige and India will be hoping to put the record straight.
“Yes, this is a very good chance for us to claim our first medal in the Commonwealth Games. We will be playing in conditions we know well. We have a talented bunch of players and the boys are optimistic of winning a medal,” said skipper Rajpal Singh.
World champions Australia are the favourites going into the tournament with England, New Zealand and Pakistan the other medal contenders.
India, ranked 9th in the world, will still fancy their chances of a podium finish.
But going by recent news emanating from the camp at Pune, things are not well in the team. The morale is down following the recent spat involving chief coach, Jose Brasa, Hockey India and the Sports Authority of India.
“All parties should have done their best to avoid such a controversy just before the CWG as it doesn’t bode well for the team,” said former coach Joaquim Carvalho.
The team will be going into the tournament without much match practice as Hockey India failed to arrange for a tour. The team will play only a few practice matches against Australia, England and New Zealand towards the end of this month and will be hoping to make the most of it.
“The first aim should be to reach the semifinals. Australia are very strong so India will have to beat both Pakistan and Malaysia to advance. We can’t take Malaysia lightly as they have won two medals in CWG. It will all depend on how the team plays on that particular day and how it manages to build on the momentum after the first match. “In the World Cup, we failed to build on the victory against Pakistan and paid the price. We can’t afford to do so this time,” cautioned Carvalho.
Brasa and his boys will need to be at their best or the medal dream will elude them once again.