By now, Indian hockey fans must have had their hearts repaired. India's exit before the World Cup quarterfinals was no less damaging than that. Once a powerhouse of hockey, India had won eight Olympic gold medals. This time, however, it lost to New Zealand in the group stage and exited the tournament it hosted in Odisha.
As a result of the embarrasing defeat, India’s head coach Graham Reid, a former Australia player, resigned. Under his mentorship, India won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and silver at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last year. "It is now time for me to step aside and handover the reins to the next management," he said.
But all the blame for this failure should not be laid at Reid's doorstep, who joined the Indian set-up in 2019. A number of other -- some valid -- reasons are already being discused for this poor show by the Indian side.
Some of them are:
Handling pressure? It’s more about finishing well
In 2010 Hockey World Cup, when India finished eighth, it was said that the players could not handle the pressure from the home crowd. In 2018, India exited in the quarterfinals against the Netherlands. Again, the home crowd pressure excuse was made to defend the performance of the players. Could it really be about handling the crowd pressure or learning how to finish the game well?
During the 2023 World Cup, India cored only nine goals from 94 circle entries and attempted 49 shots on the goal. The fact that seniors did not take part in the shoot-out suggests all was not really well within the team.
The coach’s role: Akrell and Reid complex
On being asked why does India always fail at the World Cup and how long it would be before they finally stand on the podium, Reid said he doesn’t really have the answer.
Before the World Cup, India decided to not extend the contract of its mental strengthening coach Robin Arkell. It was a decision that shocked many fans that one of the men responsible for India's Olympics performance was not retained at least until the World Cup.
The germans hire Arkell three months before the World Cup and they are now world champions. The way the German team came from behind during the tournament, one could only guess what Arkell would have contributed to the team.
Not moving ahead of Tokyo 2020
Seniors like Manpreet, Akashdeep, Lalit Upadhyay and Mandeep looked totally absent during the World Cup. The superiority complex was also visible during the crossover game as India did not even try to score more goals after taking a 3-1 lead.
Penalty corners and over-dependence on Harmanpreet Singh
Only five out of 26 penalty corners were converted by India till the crossover stage. India’s ace-drag flicker and captain Harmanpreet Singh could convert only one penalty corner duiring the torunament -- that too against Wales. He even missed two penalty strokes, one of which came in the shootout against New Zealand. It was one of the most important reasons why India failed big time.
The domestic league
India is the only team in the top 10 of the FIH rankings that does not have a regular domestic league. In a country with leagues even for kho-kho and volleyball, it is baffling why the national game doesn't have a league of its own.
Hockey was never played league style in India before the introduction of Premier Hockey League in 2005. It somewhat started commercialisation of the national sport, but could not sustain the pressure of financial burden.
World Series Hockey was controversial as two hockey associations were in place in India during that time. After five successful seasons, even Hockey India League was disbanded. To be competing on the world stage without a pool of 100 players of international standard would always be problematic.
The road ahead
Many experts have said Hockey India and its chief Dileep Tirkey should ensure India has a league in place with at least 8 teams from the hockey heartlands such as Coorg (Karnataka), Odisha, Jharkhand, Punjab, Manipur and the belt of Lucknow-Varanasi. Other suggestions that have come include hiring a mental strength and conditioning coach as soon as possible. And, there should be a healthy competition for every position in the team.