A young Indian hockey team —happy with no backbiting and no politics—scripted a neat passage into the London Olympics with a majestic performance.
“I am relaxed, I can sleep now,” declared Indian hockey team's chief coach Michael Nobbs after the side won a ticket to the London Olympics by outclassing France 8-1 in the final of the qualifying event at the National Stadium in Delhi recently.
However, he could hardly relax in the next 24 hours. An all-night after-event party, the selection committee meeting and a never-ending series of interactions with media persons kept him so busy that he struggled to get even a minute's breather.
This was indicative of the mood in the Indian camp after the country made the Olympics. The victory was all the more special since the nation's pride was at stake. It contained a lot of emotions as India had failed to qualify for the Beijing Games four years ago — that was the first ever time the country's hockey team had missed the cut for an Olympics in 80 years.
The joy of the Indian players knew no bounds. The experienced players, who never got a chance to take part in the Olympics, were ecstatic that they got what they were craving for.
They knew that they just had to wait till July to get the tag of ‘Olympian' attached to their names. With age on their side, the youngsters had a different reason to celebrate. The youthful souls were excited as their dream was so close to them.
“What can I say? This is what every player plays for. When one picks up the hockey stick for the first time in his life, one secretly desires to be an Olympian. This is the moment every player waits for, because Olympics is the ultimate stage to perform,” said the soft-spoken Danish Mujtaba, a 23-year-old from Varanasi. Danish, a witty forward, played a crucial role in India's campaign in the Olympic qualifying event and now looked forward to bigger challenges ahead in London.
Yuvraj Walmiki, who had to sit out midway through the tournament due to a hamstring injury, forgot all his pain as he limped all over the team hotel to accept greetings and give interviews to swarms of media persons.
Dream come true
He struggled for words to express his feelings. “It is like a dream come true for me. Last time we were unable to qualify. As a 15-year-old, it was a shocking moment for me. The memories of the debacle in Chile were there. However, we can now forget it. I am looking ahead at playing in the Olympics,” said the 19-year-old Mumbai striker.
Twenty-one-year-old talented midfielder Birendra Lakra from Rourkela was a personification of controlled emotions. When poked, he spoke out. “It really is a big thing. It was a fine effort from our team. I am happy with my performance as well. Now, we have to get ready to meet some of the best sides in the Olympics,” he said. From the team packed with youngsters, one always expected stamina, zeal and the passion to prove a point. Everything was on display as India remained undefeated in the tournament and achieved its mission in style.
Nobbs had earlier identified that India's success lay in playing attacking hockey and drafting in youthful players.
The Australian did it with conviction and the end result was not only satisfactory, but also heartening. “There is no politics, no backbiting in the team. This is a new bunch, which is happy and confident,” Nobbs said after India's overwhelming 8-1 victory over France in the final.
The energy and spirit of the side was not restricted to outrunning the opponent and slamming one goal after another. It also surfaced when the frustrated Frenchmen resorted to rough tackles and verbal duels. The Indians, led by their valiant goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh, countered these resolutely.
Twenty-three-year-old Sreejesh, known for playing the game hard and celebrating hard, had spring in his strides even 12 hours after the memorable victory. He shook hands with the same vigour as his sparkling eyes promised, “More to come in London!”