Sport & Culture

Can Indian Hockey Shine Again?

India used to be world beaters at field hockey. But they have their work cut out for them at the Olympics.

It’s quite a long time since India was the team to beat in the world of hockey, but the nation still has a strong tradition in the sport and hopes to get on the podium in London this summer.

From 1928 to 1956, India was dominant at the Olympics, never losing a game as it collected six gold medals. For the past two tournaments, however, the team failed to even qualify.

Now ranked tenth in the world, it has made the cut for 2012, much to the relief and delight of the Indian media. But the team has a tough summer ahead. At the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia this month, India was thrashed 5-1 by New Zealand, earning a tongue lashing from Australian coach Michael Nobbs.

“We were really bad at the back. Everything we talked about and practiced in training was forgotten…We seemed to have problems with teams like Great Britain and New Zealand and need to close the gap playing them,” said Nobbs. “Indian hockey needs to play catch-up and start defeating these teams in order for us to move up the rankings.”

In the final game, India bounced back to earn a late victory over South Korea, but there’s still clearly some work to do before London.

India’s group in England is a tough one. They will meet the mighty Netherlands, who have made every semi-final since 1988, in the opening game and have to take on 2008 gold medalists Germany as well as New Zealand, South Korea and Belgium. The top two will progress to the semi-finals, where the medals are up for grabs.

Nobbs has claimed that it’s best to play the Netherlands first and get that game out of the way. That remains to be seen, but it’s going to be great experience for a team that has been out of the limelight for too long. A ninth gold medal is likely to be out of the reach of this team. But a place in the semi-finals would be a major cause for celebration.