It is now 6 years since I was invited to do a news piece for an Indian TV channel about the state of Indian hockey. The occasion was the Hockey World Cup 2006 in Monchengladbach, Germany. At that tournament India finished a poor and very dismal 11th place and the Indian journalists in the press room were looking for any explanation that they could offer their audience.
My view, having watched all of their games and their training, was that the issue was not one of skills, training or management. The problem lay with the players, many of whom either didn’t want to be there or certainly gave that impression. There was a lack of team spirit when you watched them play, with poor communication between players and a willingness to let someone else take responsibility.
At the end of the group stage, India had just a single point, had conceded 15 goals and went on to just pip South Africa for 11th place overall.
After the World Cup, India went into severe decline due to problems within the national hockey setup and, for a time, it looked like we would never see them back on the world stage as a major power again.
That changed, or at least looked like it had changed when, in 2010, India won Silver at the Commonwealth Games. This was followed by a successful campaign at the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy 2011, where India tooki the gold medal. Even with that, India still had to qualify for the Olympics 2012 the hard way, beating France to earn their place in the final 12.
Yet here we are at an Olympic games, with India once again looking up at the rest of their group having just capitulated 4-1 to South Korea. The best India can probably expect at the moment is another play-off with South Africa for 11th or 12th place.
Quite how the promise of the past two years has been frittered away is hard to tell. I didn’t get a chance to watch India train prior to these Olympics, instead I spent my time watching Pakistan up at Cannock.
What is for certain, is that India have played poorly, made mistakes that, quite frankly, would embarrass 3rd XI sides at club level and shown little cohesiveness as a competitive unit. Once again, there is no evidence of a lack of individual skills, otherwise they would not have performed so well over the last two years.
At the end of the tournament there will no doubt be the usual hand wringing from the grandees of Indian hockey. But rather than start a witch hunt against the players, they need to work out how to fix the lack of team spirit and create a unit that plays for, not against, each other.
Indian hockey can come back from this Olympic debacle but only if there is a fresh approach from top to bottom within the entire structure of Hockey India. Without that, there will continue to be sporadic successes but on the world stage that India once dominated, they will continue to be a minor nation.