Assured of a maiden podium finish since men's hockey became a showpiece of the Commonwealth Games at Kuala Lumpur in 1998, India is poised to confront the might of the World champion, Australia, on Thursday in what is anticipated to be a rousing finale to the competition.
The euphoria over the conquest of England, the European champion, and ranked No. 4 in the world, on Tuesday, is yet to wear off.
Will India make history? Not easy to answer in the affirmative. Yet, it haunts the hockey fraternity across the country and abroad on the eve of the gold medal tussle.
Assessed from a pragmatic viewpoint, the task is gigantic. The Aussies not only have history on their side, but their unconquered record for the year, what with a trophy triumph in the World Cup and a fantastic display in the Champions Trophy, winning all the six matches.
With a master strategist as endowed as Ric Charlesworth at the helm, and a squad that retains the hunger for success with undiminished passion, India's task is anything but enviable.
This is not to deflate the confidence, or the self-belief, that is sky-high now. Factually, India has never won any of the six finals against Australia.
Ironically, the teams which met in pool ‘A' are fighting for the title. The Aussies are in splendid shape; swift, skilful, show style and systematization. Jamie Dwyer constitutes the one-man demolition squad, assisted in every line by players like Glenn Turner, Simon Orchard, Luke Doerner, Rob Hammond and Liem de Young — everyone is world class.
India's displays so far have been in the realm of fantasy. The manner in which the team rallied to beat Malaysia, the methodical and mellifluous show against Pakistan and the pugnacity to contain the challenge from England in the semifinal, all testify signs of a resurgence, an answer to many pessimists, who untiringly write off the country's value in contemporary hockey.
Stamp of Brasa
Those reluctant to admit Jose Brasa's contribution to the team need to cast off their prejudice to the foreign coach. His stamp is clear in the team's approach, in tactics, substitutions, and formations.
Sandeep has blossomed into a first class striker and competent in executing those long and accurate drives to stun the defenders ahead. Shivendra, Sarvanjit and Vikram Pillay have exhibited commendable opportunism.
A special tribute is due to Arjun Halappa for the valiant way in which he has been handling the mid-field work with Gurbaj Singh, as much as it is to the deep defender Sardar Singh. In every match, Sardar was more than conspicuous.
Finally, India is on the threshold of a gold medal thanks to that one superb save by Chettri on Tuesday in the shoot-out.
More than anyone, the Aussies will have now realized that they are up against a very motivated side that cannot be taken lightly. This alone sets the stage for a fiesta for the aficionados, wherever they are lucky to get a glimpse of the gold medal combat.
Keywords: Commonwealth Games