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Flashback 2018: It's so near yet so far again for Indian hockey

Its been the same old story of missed opportunities for Indian hockey team.

Bengaluru, December 31: It was touted as the year which could herald a change in the fortunes Indian hockey, but 2018 turned out to be yet another saga of missed opportunities for the sport.

Much was expected from the three big-ticket events -- the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the World Cup -- but rather than living up to expectations, 2018 turned out to be a year of 'what-could-have-been' for the eight-time Olympic champions.

At the start of the year, India were expected to defend their Asian Games title and directly qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

They were also expected to make the semifinals at the World Cup in Bhubaneswar, but all those hopes never turned into reality.

In world rankings, India started the year at number six and ended at fifth, summing up an unaccomplished 2018.The only constant in Indian hockey in the year was frequent "chopping and changing" -- from player to coach -- after every debacle.

The year started with the 27th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia where veteran Sardar Singh returned to lead the side but India had a disappointing outing there, managing only a win and a draw to finish a dismal fifth.

Oltmans' sacking

Oltmans' sacking

In between, after Roelant Oltmans' sacking in September 2017, Hockey India (HI) handed the reigns of the Indian men's team to women's coach Sjoerd Marijne, a man who had never coached a men's team before.

Similarly, junior men's World Cup-winning coach Harendra Singh was entrusted with the women's job. Harendra too had never coached a women's team before, raising serious doubts over HI's move.

Manpreet in the saddle

Manpreet in the saddle

But the experiment came to a premature end following India's loss to England in the bronze medal match at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in April.

The CWG outing forced HI to go for a coach swap, probably for the first time in Indian hockey, with Harendra replacing Marijne in the men's team and the Dutchman rejoining the women's side.

Amid the chopping and changing of coaches, the captain's armband also passed many hands after Sardar was dropped from the Commonwealth Games squad and Manpreet replaced him.

Sardar factor

Sardar factor

Every tournament and every bad result prompted HI to go back to its tried and tested formula of "chopping and changing".

But after Harendra's elevation to the men's team, Sardar made a comeback along with goalkeeper PR Sreejesh after a long injury lay-off.

They returned for the final edition of the Champions Trophy in Breda, Netherlands, where India recorded its best result of the year, finishing second after losing to Australia in the shoot-out.

Sardar was one of the best performers for India in the Champions Trophy, marshalling the midfield with aplomb, which earned him a place in the Asian Games squad.

India went into the Asiad as favourites to retain the gold medal but it was not to be as the defending champions lost to Malaysia in a shoot-out in the semifinal, eventually returning with a consolation bronze.

Harendra's future under scanner

Harendra's future under scanner

But the failure to defend the Asian Games title and a direct berth in Tokyo Olympics was a serious setback and had its share of repercussions, Sardar being the first casualty.

Change remained the only constant for Indian hockey, and this time Harendra decided to make wholesome changes in the World Cup squad, putting his faith on World Cup-winning junior players in place of experienced campaigners like Rupinder Pal Singh and SV Sunil among others.

Going ahead in 2019, India's most important task would be to qualify for the Olympics and with the country opting out of the Pro League, it remains to be seen what the Blue Sticks will do to book their ticket to Tokyo.

Harendra's future as India coach is also under scanner.

(Source: PTI)

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Story first published: Monday, December 31, 2018, 12:43 [IST]
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