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Hockey World Cup 2018: India get the right boost before tournament

A 23-day camp in November has prepared the team to take on the best at the quadrennial event which begins with India taking on South Africa on November 28.

other sports Updated: Nov 24, 2018 16:36 IST
Hockey World Cup 2018,Hockey World Cup,Indian Hockey Team
File image: Indian players celebrate after winning a match.(PTI)

Like everything else in Indian hockey, the men’s team too had a roller-coaster ride in 2018, in the build-up to the World Cup in Bhubaneswar. India started the year with the New Zealand tour in January where they played two invitational tournaments against the same teams --- Belgium, Japan and the hosts.

Coached by Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne and led by Manpreet Singh, the team reached the final in both events, narrowly losing to Belgium, the only team India lost to in those eight matches.

A month later, India took part in their first major tournament of the year – the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh. Veteran Sardar Singh returned as skipper after being ignored in the previous few tournaments and was handed a young and inexperienced team to take on the likes of world champions Australia and Olympic champions Argentina.

Also Read: Good record apart, we need to deliver in key matches - Coach Harendra

India performed dismally, winning only two of six matches and finishing fifth out of six teams. Sardar’s reputation was dented, in the twilight of his career when he was struggling to keep his place amidst problems with Marijne, which he later revealed.

In April, India travelled Down Under, this time under Manpreet and without Sardar, for the Commonwealth Games. It proved a debacle as India returned without a medal after finishing runners-up to Australia in the previous two editions.

The performance cost Marijne his job in one of the most bizarre decisions taken in Indian hockey for years. While the Dutchman returned to coach the women’s team, the then women’s coach, Harendra, was made the men’s team coach in a swap. In the bronze play-offs against England, Marijne’s team had lost 1-2 and Harendra’s side 0-6.

Harendra got only a month and three weeks to turn things around at the Champions Trophy in Breda. Soon after, PR Sreejesh, who got injured in 2017, was brought back and made captain and drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh dropped. Sardar also made a return.

India took off by thrashing Pakistan 4-0 before stunning Olympic champions Argentina. They almost held Australia before the world champions edged them 3-2. India then drew against Belgium and Netherlands to qualify for the final for the second successive time.

India fought hard against Australia in the final but lost the penalty shootout to settle for silver, equalling their best ever performance in the tournament. The silver in Breda was possibly the finest hour for Indian hockey in 2018 given the format, importance and level of competition. Harendra’s new innings had begun brilliantly.

India then wiped out Commonwealth Games silver medallists New Zealand 3-0 in a Test series in Bengaluru.

The next test for India was to defend the Asian Games crown. Penalty corner specialist Rupinder was brought back and India smashed every opposition in Jakarta, scoring 76 goals while conceding three during the group stage.

However, a poor semi-final against Malaysia saw them lose in sudden death. India salvaged a bronze by beating Pakistan but that didn’t satisfy the coach. “The three minutes we switched off (vs Malaysia) really hurt us,” said Harendra.

The biggest news thereafter was Sardar announcing his retirement. Tired of frequent inclusions and exclusions, the backbone of Indian hockey for almost a decade called it quits. The Asian Games heartbreak also cost Sreejesh his post as Manpreet returned as captain for the Asian Champions Trophy.

The defending champions returned unbeaten from Muscat, winning five games and drawing one. The final against Pakistan was abandoned because of rain and the teams were declared joint winners. It came at the right time, boosting the team’s confidence ahead of the World Cup.

A 23-day camp in November has also prepared the team to take on the best at the quadrennial event which begins with India taking on South Africa on November 28.

India in 2018 - Played: 43, Won: 26, Lost: 11, Draws: 5, NR: 1

Performance in 2018

Four-Nation Invitational (Jan 14-28; Tauranga and Hamilton)

Lost to Belgium 1-2 (final)

Lost to Belgium 4-4 (0-3) (final)

Sultan Azlan Shah Cup (March 3-10; Ipoh)

Beat Ireland 4-1 (5th-6th playoff)

Commonwealth Games (April 4-15, Gold Coast)

Lost to England 1-2 (bronze medal match)

Champions Trophy (June 23-July 1; Breda)

Lost to Australia 1-1 (1-3) (final)

India vs New Zealand (July 17-23, Bengaluru)

Beat New Zealand 3-0 in three-match series

Asian Games (August 19-September 1; Jakarta)

Beat Pakistan 2-1 (bronze medal match)

Asian Champions Trophy (October 18-28, Muscat)

No result vs Pakistan (final) – Title shared

First Published: Nov 22, 2018 12:17 IST