For a country that dominated the sport for decades, won eight Olympic gold medals, one World Cup title and numerous medals at the Continental level, India have an abysmal record in the Commonwealth Games men's hockey. Though hockey made a belated entry into the Games fold at Kuala Lumpur in 1998 - the same year in which Indian men won their first Asian Games gold in 32 years - India's best finish in CWG is a fourth place bagged in Malaysia.
But with the Games being played on home turf, Indian men are hoping to set the record straight. Leading their charge, hopefully, will be Rajpal Singh, who was part of the team that finished sixth at Melbourne four years ago.
"Yes, this is a good opportunity for us to win our first CWG medal. We will be playing on home soil and should be able to achieve our aim," Rajpal told Hindustan Times.
The lanky Sardar from Chandigarh is one of the senior players in the squad that is currently in the rebuilding phase after the World Cup in New Delhi earlier this year. He led the squad on a tour to Europe last month where young players were tested, some of whom will be in action in the Games.
"The team is shaping up well. We were joint winners in the Azlan Shah Cup and have also had a successful tour of Europe. We have a talented bunch and are very confident of a good performance," said Rajpal.
The players are currently at a camp in Pune, gearing up for the mega event. A team of 16 players will be short-listed from among 37 probables towards the end of this month.
The probables usually have two sessions daily, during which they work out on fitness and technique. "We also work on various combinations and see which player is gelling with which," said Rajpal.
In the last one year, coach Jose Brasa has introduced many new drills and a new system of play that combines the Asian style of attacking game with impregnable defence.
The day for Rajpal and his team starts at 6 am with a three-hour session in which they work on fitness. The evenings too are spent on the ground with Sunday the only rest day. The coaching staff periodically conducts tests to assess stamina and agility. Sometimes, the players are divided into groups who play fast-paced, short matches on half pitch. A good performance gets points for the group, the weekly total earning the group the bragging rights.
In the Commonwealth Games, the team's first target would be getting past the preliminary group. "We have Pakistan and Malaysia in our group and beating them will ensure us a place in the semifinals," said Rajpal. Once the first hurdle is crossed, anything can happen against the big guns - world champions Australia and England.
Born: August 8, 1983
• Declared Man of the Tournament for the 2001 Junior Asia Cup after scoring seven goals.
• Led Chandigarh Dynamos in the now-defunct Premier Hockey League.
• Was named captain of the national team in 2009
• Was member of the 2009 Azlan Shah Cup winning Indian team
• Was a member of the Indian team that finished joint winner in Azlan Shah 2010.