Tokyo Olympics 2020 started with a bang for India, but the initial promise has somehow weakened by the sub-optimal returns in a couple of games for the last two days. When Mirabai Chanu stood on the podium to receive her white medal for weightlifting it looked as if India have finally banished the ghosts of the past and are all set to enter the double figures with medal tally this year. However, some unfortunate and shocking results in other sporting events have dampened the initial enthusiasm to an extent. Though double figures are still within the reach of India.
What has come across as a big downer is the performance of our Men’s Hockey team. The men in blue were good and adequate when they got the better off Kiwis in their opening game (3-2). There were a few flaws in the performance but they were largely concealed by the herculean efforts of India’s goalkeeper PR Sreejesh. However, against the formidable Aussies, every grey area of Manpreet Singh and company came to the fore. The uncompromising Aussies never gave India any respite and thoroughly exposed their porous defence, which was clearly on display on one occasion when Sreejesh was the sole person on the circle surrounded by the ‘brutal’ Australians, who were licking their lips in anticipation. This was just one instance, there were several other mistakes as well and finally, India suffered the worst-ever defeat against the Oz (7-1) in the Olympics.
This time around India were in a tricky situation to begin with. As highlighted by the former India hockey captain Dhanraj Pillay that India need to display their A-game from the start itself as they are in a tough group involving Australia, Argentina, Japan etc. Also, the forward line is short on experience, so Manpreet and Lalit Upadhyay have their tasks cut out. However, the team failed to click as a unit against Australia and their tactics of keeping the ball in possession for too long to frustrate the Oz also did not work. Resultantly, Australia made better use of the chances provided by the Indians and were very clinical in their approach. In the end, captain Manpreet only echoed the thoughts of millions in India when he said “Disappointed. We gave them easy chances”, after the forgettable encounter.
However, India are not yet out of contention but they need to forget the Oz humiliation as quickly as possible and organise themselves while taking on Spain, Argentina etc going forward. Hockey happened to be a sport where Indians were seriously expecting a medal this time, irrespective of the colour of the same. India’s last medal, gold, in the Olympics came in the 1980 Moscow games. It has been over four decades now since 1980 and the Hockey team is yet to win a medal in the ultimate sporting carnival. The last time they produced something of significance was in Sydney Olympics 2000, where Poland ended their semi-final prospect by scoring an equaliser. Still, India can go the distance at this year’s games provided they rectify the mistakes they committed against the Australians. Lastly, they need to believe that they can beat anyone on any given day to win the Olympic honors yet again. After all, talent is in abundance when it comes to this Hockey team it is simply a matter of belief.