It's a make or break year for Indian hockey

Jan 01, 2018, 14:30 IST | Ashwin Ferro

Indian hockey team captain Manpreet Singh, coach Sjoerd Marijne are confident of winning medals at Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Cup this year, but admit they can't take any situation lightly

With an average age of 23, almost every member of the Indian hockey team is at the crossroads of their career, one that could potentially boast of a World Cup medal or better still, an Olympic medal. The former hasn't happened since 1975 and the latter, since 1980.

India players celebrate after a goal against England during the Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar last year. Pics/ PTI, Getty Images
India players celebrate after a goal against England during the Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar last year. Pics/ PTI, Getty Images

However, the year 2018 has the potential to change all this. While a young Team India can stake claim for a World Cup prize in their own backyard in Bhubaneshwar between November 28 to December 16, the Asian Games' defending champions can directly qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics if they can retain their Asiad crown in Jakarta between August 18 and September 2.
"It's a definite possibility," said skipper Manpreet Singh and coach Sjoerd Marijne, in unison.

"This is a young team and the boys are only getting more brave with each passing tournament. Proof of this is our Asia Cup gold medal and now the Hockey World League Final bronze," Manpreet told mid-day recently.

Coach Marijne said this team has pleasantly surprised him with both results.

India players celebrate after a goal against England during the Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar last year. Pics/ PTI, Getty Images
India players celebrate after a goal against England during the Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar last year. Pics/ PTI, Getty Images

Healthy competition
"The youngsters in the team are playing very well. Having won back-to-back medals, this team's confidence is up. The best part though is the internal competition for a spot in the team. Every player realises that he cannot take his place in this team for granted," Marijne said.

He's spot-on. Veteran and former FIH All-Star team member Sardar Singh was dropped from the line-up team for the HWL Final. The senior player has been a stalwart for India for over a decade. But in what is being termed by some critics as a refreshing ideology that should transcend all Indian sporting disciplines, there's no differentiation between seniors and juniors, said Manpreet. "There's no junior-senior system in this team. When you put on the India jersey, there cannot be a junior-senior feeling. Every player, however senior or junior, has to work hard to give his 100 per cent. With every new selection, some players will come in and some will go out, but what is important is that those who are in should work hard to stay there, and those who are out, should work hard on getting back in. Only then can India do well," explained Manpreet, 25, stressing that the camaraderie of the boys both on and off the field is what's ticking at the moment.

"We are like a bunch of friends. Our relationship with coach Marijne is a good. He has clearly told us that we can share absolutely anything with him, even if it's not related to hockey. He has a simple philosophy -- if every player gives his seven on 10 -- we can challenge the world's best teams," said Manpreet.

Sjoerd Marijne
Sjoerd Marijne

Keep the momentum going
Both captain and coach have a similar predictive analysis for 2018. "Before the Asian Games and the World Cup, is the Commonwealth Games (April 4 to 15 in Goldcoast, Australia) and we have won back-to-back silver medals in the last two editions (New Delhi 2010 and Glasgow 2014), so it will be nice to finish on the podium again. Though we enter the Asian Games as the highest ranked team in the continent (World No. 6), we cannot afford to take it lightly because tournament pressure can change things in an instant. The World Cup will have similar conditions like the HWL Final just gone by, so a World Cup medal is our aim too," said Manpreet.

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