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12 Months of What Could Have Been for Indian Hockey

Year after year, the Indian hockey stars try ever so hard to punch above their weight against their illustrious world opponents and 2017 was no different. However, the past 12 months can be seen as a season of major ups and downs for both men’s and women’s team on the field, while there were some big upheavals in the management as well.

Pratik Sagar | News18 Sports

Updated:December 29, 2017, 11:21 AM IST
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12 Months of What Could Have Been for Indian Hockey
Indian Hockey Team celebrate their Bronze Medal (Image: Hockey India/Twitter)
Year after year, the Indian hockey stars try ever so hard to punch above their weight against their illustrious world opponents and 2017 was no different. However, the past 12 months can be seen as a season of major ups and downs for both men’s and women’s team on the field, while there were some big upheavals in the management as well.

The men’s team showed glimpses of brilliance throughout the year in every major tournament that they participated in, but fell short time and time again by some distance. Although, the Blue Brigade clinched podium finishes at three major events in 2017, their love affair with bronze medal continued. The team still couldn’t find the answer to what is stopping them from making that final leap that would turn them into the groom from being the perennial bridesmaid.

India started the year by receiving a double whammy at the prestigious Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia. Coach Roelant Oltmans’ troops were touted as heavy favourites to land the title but they suffered a shock defeat at the hands of the hosts in semis and eventually had to settle for bronze.

Moreover, skipper and talisman PR Sreejesh tore his ACL during the course of the tournament and hasn’t featured in the line-up since. A tournament that began with Mandeep Singh and Harmanpreet Singh lighting up the competition with their sizzling goals, ended in despair for India.

With Hockey World League semi-final in London fast approaching, the Indian think tank were forced to chop and change due to regular skipper Sreejesh’s injury. Manpreet Singh was handed the responsibility of leading the side while goalkeepers Akash Chikte and Suraj Kerkera filled in between the posts.

However, things didn’t go as per plan as inconsistency and profligacy in front of the goal meant India finished a lowly sixth in the competition. The Indian team were first shocked by Malaysia in the quarterfinal and then Canada made it even worse for India by beating them in the 5th-6th place play-off tie.

The damning defeats at the hands of lower-ranked sides proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Oltmans, who was shown the door in the aftermath of India’s performance in London. And by doing so, India had sacked its 23rd men's hockey coach in as many years.

Dutchman Sjoerd Marinje was handed over the reins of the men’s team and Junior Hockey World Cup winning coach Harendra Singh replaced him as the women’s national team coach. The move to do so immediately bore fruit as both men’s and women’s team won the Asia Cup under their respective new coaches.

Riding on the excellence of young players, India lifted their third title and reclaimed Asian supremacy after 13 years. Harmanpreet continued his good personal goal scoring form as he ended the tournament with seven strikes. While as for the women’s team, their Asia Cup victory helped them enter the Top-10 in world rankings and also seal a place at the World Cup in London next year.

The men’s team then ended the season with another bronze - this time at the Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar. In the group stage, India pulled off a stunning draw against Australia but succumbed to big losses against England and Germany respectively, to finish at the bottom.

The poor show in group stage meant India had to lock horns with Belgium in the quarters and looking at the past record between the two, the result was all but known. However, the hosts sprung a massive surprise as they stunned the Rio Olympic silver-medallist in the shoot-out to progress into the last four.

Olympic gold medallist Argentina finally ended India’s journey as they edged Marinje’s brave men 1-0 in the semis. India then caused the second upset of the tournament when they thumped an injury-torn Germany 2-1 to clinch the bronze medal in front of roaring home support.

But by no means the year 2017 can be termed as a success for Indian hockey but it will be known as a season of what could have been for a sport which boasts of such rich history. While letting go of Oltmans, Harbinder Singh, the chairman of Hockey India’s selection committee had said: “Asia can’t be a benchmark for success any more”.

But as 2017 comes to a close, Asian supremacy is all that we have got!
| Edited by: Abhimanyu Sen
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