At the mid way stage of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, when elite sportspersons have set new marks and seeped their way into world sporting history with sparkling gold medals, the India versus Great Britain men’s hockey quarterfinals match slated for August 1 might appear to be an ordinary encounter.
Harpreet Kaur Lamba
But make no mistake.
August 1 could well turn out to be Indian hockey’s defining moment in the new century. For a nation deprived and parched of a top finish at the Olympics since the last of their eight glorious gold medals in 1980 Moscow, a win on Sunday could be the change that India had been seeking since last 41 years.
At this stage, the critics would be tempted to point to the innumerous heartbreaks of the past and the often-repeated saga of hope and despair that is quintessential to Indian hockey. To be fair, that has been the underlying theme of Indian hockey since more than four decades now but August 1 could be different.
Come Sunday, 5.30 pm IST (1 pm BST), drop everything and watch these 16 men, who stand on the threshold of change and history.
Four wins from five encounters
For a team known to entangle itself in the jargons of permutations and combinations and rely on last-minute results of other matches to often find their way through the next round, the ongoing Tokyo Games have been a welcome change for men’s hockey.
It is for the first time that India booked their next round berth with a match to spare in the pool stages since the 1980 Olympics. The 1-7 loss at the hands of Australia was hurtful, but perhaps in it lay the seeds of change that spruced this young bunch to life. India were confident, composed and effective in their four wins out of five to finish second behind the Kookaburras in the pool stage.
Yes, they lacked in finishing and midfield-attack coordination. The inexperience of the forwardline too was visible. But unlike previous many years, when errors would creep into India’s game at the first hint of pressure, they appeared resolute and calm under pressure at the Oi Hockey Stadium in Tokyo. The team showcased maturity in tense situations and never once threw in the towel despite the opposition putting them under pressure.
Why is August 1 important?
This is not the first time that India find themselves in this scenario. At the 2016 Rio Games too, India were a win away from what could have been their first top-four finish in 36 years. Standing in their way were the mighty Belgiums, and India succumbed to the eventual silver-medallists in the quarterfinals to finish eighth in the overall standings.
The 2016 result did not evoke much hue and cry in India. It seemed like a reasonable finish for a team who had missed the bus at the 2008 Beijing Olympics (it was the first time India did not qualify for the Olympics) and ended last at the 2012 London Games.
But Tokyo is different. India are ranked No. 3 in world rankings for the first-time ever. In the last two years, this bunch has beaten every major hockey-playing nation in the world, something that was unthinkable a few years ago. Since the Beijing debacle, India has resorted to every possible method to turn their hockey around — hire the best overseas coaching personnel, introduce sport science, train as per modern methods and strategies, unearth talent, provide the squad with the best of facilities and compete regularly in top tournaments.
It has been an upward rise and it is time to deliver. There can be no better time than this for India to claw their way back into the Olympics domination, and Sunday’s encounter against World No. 6 Great Britain is their tryst with destiny.
A win would guarantee India of a top-four finish (and put them in medal contention) for the first time in 41 years and would provide the game a huge fillip back home. It will evoke slumbering desires, and turn dreams into reality.
It will bring to life the dreams and aspirations of a nation that has spent endless decades reliving the tales of those eight gold medals and finding solace in them. It will be a tale of belief and new hope.
Can India re-write hockey history?
We will get to know in less than 24 hours.
Road to Quarters
Beat New Zealand 3-2
Lost to Australia 7-1
Beat Spain 3-0
Beat Argentina 3-1
Beat Japan 5-3
Beat South Africa 3-1
Beat Canada 3-1
Lost to Germany 1-5
Drew with Holland 2-2
Drew with Belgium 2-2