In quest of an Olympic spot

Will the Olympic dream come true? It is not a mere rhetoric. Its import and relevance are enormous. India's hour of reckoning is waiting to emerge at the hockey qualifier that unfolds on Saturday.

A filament of anguish is inescapable. It is difficult to digest the reality of an eight-time gold medallist struggling to be part of the elite group at the London Olympiad. The vicissitudes of our hockey for nearly four decades are baffling.

Our horrendous moment surfaced at Santiago four years ago. India collapsed in the final against Great Britain and missed an Olympic berth for the first time in 80 years. The trauma lingers on, agonisingly, even today.

If India stumbles again at this venue that bears the name of hockey's immortal — Dhyan Chand — then its image and identity, or whatever is left, will be devastated forever. The question now is not over the quality of the opposition, but the weight of expectations.

The transformation during the four year hiatus is striking. It is definitely not shining. Foreign coaches have taken charge, the administration has changed hands, with a chaotic chase for power that, unfortunately, remains alive at this hour, and the discovery of a few talented players like Yuvaraj Walmiki and Kolthar Singh.

There can be no dispute over preparatory work. It has been scientific, systematic and sincere. Coach Michael Nobbs, with commendable inputs from his lieutenants, Mohammad Riaz and Clarence Lobo, has strained every nerve to identify the areas of weakness. His decision to summon the indefatigable former captain, Dilip Tirkey, to correct the inadequacies in the defence is a welcome move.

Feared hitter

Former flicker Jugraj Singh, once the most feared hitter of penalty corners, has spent a good deal of time and energy in fine-tuning the approach and adeptness of the strikers, Sandeep Singh, Raghunath and Rupinderpal Singh. This is one area in which the team secures an edge over the rest.

The fulcrum in the mid-field rests on the one-man army — Sardar Singh. It is time his proficiency is capitalised fruitfully. Another seasoned mid-fielder is Ignace Tirkey. His skills as a dribbler, tackler and even as a shooter, are all well documented.

India has a set of tried and tested men in every layer, with a sprinkling of youngsters waiting to prove their mettle.

It may appear over-stating a fact but that cannot be left unsaid. Whatever the quality and content of the rival teams, India needs to tread with circumspection eschewing even a hint of complacency. Eventually, the qualifier boils down to one final game in which victory is a must. Nothing else is significant.

For the women's team too, the moment to cherish a second appearance in the Olympics — the first was Moscow in 1980 — is only steps away. Barring South Africa, the rest in the fray cannot offer much resistance to the Indians trained by C. R. Kumar. Can the squad under Asunta Lakra be part of Olympic history?

With both the men and women teams on the threshold of acquiring an Olympic berth, the week starting on Saturday can be as fascinating as it will be absorbing for the aficionados.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 8:50:36 PM |

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