India may have lost 5-1 to Great Britain in the third place match of the Hockey World League semis in Belgium but we can still hold our heads high as the first team to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
As a result of a fourth place finish in the HWL semis, India have now officially entered the final stage as a deserving team, and not just as hosts. This is a huge achievement.
To be fair, a little over seven years ago, Indian hockey was in a state of shambles. In 2008, India had failed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 1928. For a team that had won 8 gold, a silver and two bronze medals at the world’s greatest sporting event, it was humiliating to say the least.
With the Premier Hockey League and the subsequent Hockey India League, things changed for the better and we slowly raised our level. International players of the likes of Ashley Jackson and Tom Boon started competing in India along with our local players. This gave us a lot of exposure.
It was actually the replacement of grass with synthetic turf in the late 1960s that saw the demise of Asian hockey superpowers. Players in the subcontinent could not adjust to the speed of European players on astro-turf.
Even now, there aren’t enough astro-turf stadiums in either India or Pakistan to aid the growth of hockey on a world level. Only when a player gets selected in the national team does he get the chance to gain enough experience on astro-turf.
It is indeed striking to know that a relatively small city of Amsterdam in Netherlands alone has over 40 astro-turf stadiums spread across the capital.
However, taking cue from the ‘Chak de’ effect, the Indian men’s hockey team in recent times has made a decent effort to relive the glories of the past.
In 2014, India had a stellar run when it won silver in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and then followed it with a gold medal in the Asian Games at Incheon by beating arch-rivals Pakistan.
Not only that, India beat world champions Australia in a Test series in their own backyard.
Good things are finally happening for Indian hockey and here’s hoping we once again become the invincible team we were three decades ago. After all, hockey is our national pride and nothing gives us more pride than when our team wins medals at the international stage.