The Hockey World League semi finals currently taking place in London, Brussels and soon Johannesburg are a means of qualifying for next year’s Hockey World Cup. All the teams that make the semi finals qualify for the World Cup.
In the quarter finals in London, India ranked sixth in the World came up against 14th ranked Malaysia. To many it was a foregone conclusion after all India had won 79 of the 113 games played, Malaysia had won just 19.
Yet India came out and were soon on the back foot. At the 20 minute mark they were trailing 0-2. However two goals in quick succession from Ramandeep saw them head in level at half time. Many expected India to shift into another gear in the third quarter and blow Malaysia away, just as they had Scotland on the opening day having gone in 0-1 down at half time. It didn’t happen.
Instead a determined and committed Malaysia once again took the lead. They then valiantly hung on until the final whistle and booked their place at next year’s World Cup.
So what happened to India? Their fans at the stadium and back in India were shocked and soon were on social media claiming that a fix was on the match. If it wasn’t a fix it was the umpires. Only a small percentage admitted that their team simply did not turn up. They did not perform. They were out-hassled, out-muscled. To use a over used sporting cliche Malaysia ‘wanted it more.’
So why did Malaysia want it more? Could it be that this group of Malaysian players was aware that this was their best chance of qualifying for the World Cup? That winning the Asian Cup later in the year would be a far tougher prospect?
Could it be that this Indian team has forgotten, or possibly not had to learn how to win big games such as this? After all India in a deal done with the International Hockey federation has hosting rights for one major tournament a year.
India is due to host the final of the Hockey World League, so India automatically qualifies. India at the present time is due to host the World Cup in 2018 so as host again receives automatic qualification.
Although the hosting rights for both tournaments but especially the World Cup are believed to now be under review. So will this mean that India must win the Asia Cup in order to qualify?
It has been great to see the resurgence of Indian hockey in the past seven years. TO see the nation that led the world for half a century finally climbing back and competing amongst the top nations. Yet one has to ask has the hosting of major tournaments taken the edge off the team’s performances when it comes to the latter stages of competitions?
Would India qualify for these major events if it did not host them? On their World ranking they should do. On their recent form they should do. Their best performance being a year ago when they made the final of the Champions Trophy and held the then World number one to a 0-0 draw, only to lose in a shoot out. This was their first ever appearance in a final of the Champion’s Trophy.
Yet one cannot help feeling that the edge has gone from India’s game, albeit subconsciously, because they have already qualified. The ruthlessness shown by the teams ranked above them to ensure that they qualify for every major event as early as possible seemed to be lacking. Maybe hosting these events has benefitted the game in terms of bringing people in India back to hockey, but one wonders whether now it is in fact hampering the team reaching their peak.