Gloves Off

Our men's hockey team will make India proud this Olympics

As new skipper PR Sreejesh and his boys spend the last few days at the final camp in Bangalore, the mood is one of optimism.

 |  Gloves Off  |  4-minute read |   17-07-2016
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It's hard not to sing lines from the Swedish band "The Final Countdown."

When this song was belted out exactly three decades ago by a group called Europe, it became an instant rage.

Top of the charts in 25 countries, this is not what the rock group had expected.

As the Indian men's hockey team embarks on the long ride to the Rio Olympics, lines from the song come readily to the mind:

"We're leaving together But still it's farewell And maybe we'll come back To earth, who can tell? I guess there is no one to blame We're leaving ground (leaving ground) Will things ever be the same again? It's the final countdown The final countdown Ohh!"

Having been present inside the hockey arena at the London Olympics in 2012 where the Bharat Chetri-led side finished 12th among 12 teams, the atmosphere was funereal.

If the players did not know where to look, it was equally embarrassing for the media as well.

Phone calls came from office and the demand was for post mortems, RIP (rest in peace) lines and so on.

There was no escaping it as the loss to South Africa was the final nail in the coffin.

Also read - Silver at Champions Trophy: Good times here for Indian hockey

As new skipper PR Sreejesh and his boys spend the last few days at the final camp in Bangalore before departing for Rio, the mood is one of optimism.

They could well be hearing the lines from "The Final Countdown" on their iPods and phones as the final countdown has begun.

When Hockey India held a glittering function this week in the capital to announce the men's and women's teams, the excitement in the air was huge.

At the same time, when India's lucky talisman Sreejesh was named captain ahead of Sardar Singh, reactions were mixed.

Perhaps, it required the right sound bites from Bangalore where Sreejesh has put the captaincy issue in perspective by speaking about it at length.

To be sure, captaincy in hockey cannot be equated with captaincy in cricket. Yes, leading the Indian team is a big thing and Sreejesh deserves it for the way he has performed as India's goalkeeper in the last two years.

Since the time Sreejesh showed his wares in the Asian Games and India won gold in the final against Pakistan in Incheon, South Korea, the goalkeeper from Kerala has been inspirational.

And he has played with the same passion and poise as a result of which captaincy in the Olympics has been bestowed on him.

It could be purely coincidental that even during the last Olympics in London, a goalkeeper was the Indian captain - Bharat Chetri.

Going by what has been heard and said, Sreejesh and star forward SV Sunil will have the captain's band on their arms.

In fact, one should not be surprised if the band adorns a few more arms in Rio, as that's what the philosophy is among the players - share the responsibility.

A quick word about Sardar Singh. He has been the fulcrum of Indian hockey for a while and in the 2012 London Olympics was seen as a sturdy worker.

He was "rested" for the Champions Trophy in London and reasons were quite clear as Hockey India did not want any trouble for him outside the field.

The genial Sardar has been dealing with a few issues away from hockey but the federation has done well to keep him insulated.

sardarsinghptil_071716121654.jpg Sardar Singh, former captain Indian men's hockey team. (PTI)

As a solid player in the midfield, Sardar still has the fire in him to play as a team man. And that is what India needs from him more than him being a decorative captain.

Back to Sreejesh. The 28-year-old is aware of what the pressure will be at the Rio Olympics. He was part of the side which flopped in London 2012 and one of the seven members who had to face heaps of humiliation after the 12th place finish.

For Sreejesh and Indian hockey as a whole, this is redemption time. When the Indian team did not make the cut for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, there was anguish and turmoil at home. It was no different in 2012 when the team played so poorly, each match was a nightmare and the very thought of having to visit the hockey arena was dreadful.

There is hope in the air now and the way the team has shaped up under Roelant Oltmans is impressive.

Also read - Why I don't see Indian hockey clinching a medal at Olympics

The Dutchman has tried hard to understand the psyche of the Indian players and blend the team well.

Winning a bronze medal in the FIH World League last year and a silver medal in the Champions Trophy is a mirror reflection of how the Indian players look at each other with pride.

In India, old-timers who were part of medal-winning campaigns at the historic Olympics talk of sheer nostalgia and how the team needs a medal badly this time.

So what's in store for Indian hockey in Rio. Hope? Yes. Medal?

Wait and see.

It's the final countdown.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Writer

S Kannan S Kannan @kannandelhi

Sports columnist.

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