A litmus test awaits India when the hockey World Cup begins at The Hague on Saturday. It pertains largely to estimating the influence of foreign coaches at this summit level.
This is the second World Cup for India under the stewardship of a foreign coach. Spaniard Jose Brasa was at the helm at the last edition in Delhi. Now it is the irrepressible Aussie Terry Walsh.
Much has happened in the intervening four years. Suffice it to say that the overall showing of the National teams, both at home and abroad, has been anything but shining. That India has made it to the 12 is itself a chapter filled with suspense.
Given the new power alignments, it will be a huge guessing game trying to evaluate the outcome. Form and rankings go for a toss during the World championships.
The exercise of finding a spot for India in the 12 will be extremely hazardous. The signs are anything but encouraging, notwithstanding some meticulous and tough preparations at various camps and tours.
Possessing just one player — Sardar Singh — reckoned as world class, the squad wears a label of mediocrity. It is prone to lose form in a jiffy. The perils of playing tough games before the start of a major event have taken a toll as evidenced by the injuries to Ramandeep Singh and Nikkin Thimmiah. The replacements, Lalit Upadhyay and Yuvraj Walmiki, hardly evoke a trace of optimism. Walsh and his team of coaches are now compelled to rework their strategies to accommodate the newcomers at the eleventh hour. A fifth spot, last obtained in Sydney in 1994, is the target, but that seems to be a tall order.
India opens the campaign against Belgium, a country whose rise to the top in the last four years has been fascinating. In the last five matches played between them, India has lost three, including the one at the World League earlier this year. If India wins this tie, the result can be termed as “stunning.”
What needs to be looked into is the alarming decline of the Asian challenge. For the first time since inception in 1971, four-time champion Pakistan is missing from the event. India, Korea and Malaysia have not come in with as much comfort as have the defending champion Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, England and even Argentina.
A new power equation is bound emerge and it could be shaped by the performances of Australia, Germany and the Netherlands.