Everyone remembers learning how India was a prosperous country until the British conquered us. Everyone also remembers learning how India was a champion hockey nation, winning the Olympic gold a record eight times, until astro-turf and nations like Australia and Germany knocked us off. The same glee that Indians these days show in the country's 'return' to global economic prowess was echoed in Sunday's grand return of the national hockey team in the Olympic arena. By thrashing France 8-1 in the Olympics qualification match, India corrected the anomaly of not making it to the Games after being beaten in a 2008 qualifying match. Effectively, the 10th ranked hockey-playing nation has got its stick back into the door. .
Whether it was the keen sense of humiliation or the injection of fresh spirit brought in by coach Michael Nobbs, we saw a different Indian hockey team on Sunday. The players played a team game and the sheer ability to convert penalty corners into goals was brilliantly showcased by Sandeep Singh who scored five goals from six chances. This is the kind of success ratio that is taken for granted in top teams.
Nobbs, a pragmatic man, knows that qualifying for the Olympics is a far cry from challenging the big daddies of world hockey. That today's hockey is not a zero-sum game of either physical fitness or individual skill needs to be driven home over the next few years for India to make inroads into the top five. But quantity has a quality of its own. India's 44 goals in six matches in the tournament point to a new aggression so far missing. Nobbs believes that in 18 months the current team will be "a sensational team". Nothing would make us happier. What we need to see is how the team handles defeat against stronger teams and whether it can, in the process, come out stronger. Till then, it's cheering them on to the London Olympics.