Their fans' appetite whetted by a historic bronze medal they won in the Tokyo Olympic Games, the Indian hockey teams step into 2022 with a lot of stuff on their plate. It could be a make-or-break year for the teams and stern test for their talent and consistency.
2022 will be a busy year for the Indian hockey teams as they now have to prove that success at the Tokyo Olympics in July-August 2021 was not a flash in the pan and that they can successfully replicate the results in the upcoming events.
In that sense, 2022 will be very crucial -- and hectic too -- because the teams will have to work on a triple-peak system, as the schedule includes the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham (July 28-August 8), followed by the Asian Games at Hangzhou from September 10-25.
The Asian Games are a qualifying event for the Paris Olympics with the men's and women's winners clinching a direct berth to the mega event in 2024.
And with the full programme of the FIH Pro League thrown into the mix, the teams will have matches every few days from January till the end of September.
The women will also have their World Cup in Terrassa, Spain, and Amstelveen, the Netherlands, from July 1-17 -- the Indian team thus playing three major events in three months.
The women's team will begin the crowded claendar with the 2022 Asia Cup, a qualifying event for the World Cup, from January 21-28 in Bangkok, Thailand.
The men's team will start its 2022 schedule with the Pro League matches in February and end its campaign in June -- this will be followed by the Commonwealth and Asian Games in quick succession.
The season will culminate with the World Cup at Bhubaneswar and Rourkela from January 13-29, 2023. The team will at least not have to qualify for the World Cup as India bagged a direct berth as hosts.
Both the Indian men's and women's teams will step into the 2022 season on the back of a brilliant 2021.
The men's team won a historic bronze in the Tokyo Olympics -- the first medal for the country in the Games after a gap of 41 years -- while the women stunned everyone by finishing fourth, narrowly missing the bronze after losing to Great Britain 3-4 in the thrilling third-place playoff.
India's last medal in the Olympics was the gold bagged by the men's team in the boycott-marred Moscow Olympics in 1980. Since then, the team had encountered failure after failure, barely managing to get into semifinal contention on a couple of occasions.
Their fortunes took a sensational turn at the Oi Hockey Stadium in the Japanese capital -- years of heartbreak ending in tears of joy for Manpreet Singh and his boys.
India had reached Japan in high spirits despite their preparations being marred -- just like for every team -- by the global Covid-19 pandemic, which had resulted in the Olympic Games being postponed by a year from 2020.
No one had an inkling of the way it will all end when the men's team expectedly made it to the last-eight stage, finishing second behind World No. 1 Australia in Group A.
Great Britain's identical 2-2 draws with both eventual champions Belgium and the Netherlands in Group B and Germany's win over the Dutch meant that India played Great Britain in the quarterfinal.
India defeated Great Britain 3-1 in the last-eight clash and though Graham Reid's team lost 2-5 to World Champions Belgium in the semis, the boys made their year by prevailing 5-4 over Germany to claim the bronze. Belgium went on to add the Olympic gold to their World Cup title by beating Australia in the final.
The women team's was a Cinderella Story in Tokyo as it exploded into action in the quarterfinal after finishing fourth in their group following a 4-3 win in a do-or-die clash with South Africa. Coach Sjoerd Marijne had set the last-eight stage as the target for his team, but the girls exceeded all expectations by finishing fourth.
In the quarterfinal, India upset two-time gold medallists Australia, absorbing tremendous pressure created by the in-form Hockeyroos in a brilliant defensive display.
They lost 1-2 to Argentina in a well-fought semifinal in which Rani Rampal's team squandered a couple of good opportunities to seal the victory.
The script got repeated in the bronze medal match as the Indians, after making a superb comeback to take 3-2 lead just before the half-time, lost 3-4 to Great Britain as Rani and her teammates dissolved into tears, unable to bear the heartbreak after capturing the imagination of the nation with their sensational performance.
The team was participating in only its third Olympics and thus surprised everyone with their brilliant campaign.
The year ended for the men's and women's teams in contrasting fashion. The men won the bronze in the Asian Champions Trophy with a depleted squad -- coming back from a humiliating 3-5 defeat to Japan to outwit archrivals Pakistan in the bronze medal match.
The women's team had to withdraw from the Women's Asian Champions Trophy in Donghae, South Korea, after a player tested positive for Covid-19.
In between, the junior men's team raised hopes of retaining the World Cup India won in 2016 at Lucknow by reaching the semifinal, where they lost to Germany 2-4. A bronze medal was for the taking, but the Indians messed things up by ending their campaign as they had started -- with a defeat to France.
The success at the Olympics resulted in Indian players sweeping the FIH Star Awards 2021 with Harmanpreet Singh and Gurjit Kaur being named the Player of the Year in the men's and women's category. P.R. Sreejesh and Savita Punia were voted the best goalkeepers in men's and women's sections, while Vivek Sagar Prasad and Sharmila Devi were named the FIH Rising Stars. The sweep was completed when Graham Reid and Sjoerd Marijne won the respective Coach of the Year awards.
Thus, India ended the year at an all-time high third place in the year-end rankings, while the women finished the year placed ninth.
But all said and done, with their brilliant performance at the Olympics, the teams proved that Indian hockey is not dead despite wallowing in despair for a decade. They now have to continue its revival in 2022. It will not be easy, considering the hectic schedule and the fact that the threat of Coronavirus has not ended and is rather spreading faster than earlier.
The Indian teams will have to cross this major hurdle too if they have to succeed in 2022.
They have shown their potential in 2021, now they have to prove their consistency in 2022. Indian hockey is in for another make-or-break year.
Major achievements in 2021:
* Men's team wins bronze in Tokyo Olympics
* Women's team finishes fourth in Tokyo Olympics
* Men's team bags bronze in Asian Champions Trophy
* India finish fourth in Junior Men's World Cup in Bhubaneswar
* India sweeps FIH Star Awards 2021 with Harmanpreet Singh and Gurjit Kaur claiming the Player of the Year awards in their respective categories.
Key dates in 2022:
* January 21-28: 2022 Asia Cup in Bangkok, Thailand
* January-June: FIH Pro League (men and women)
* July 1-17: Women's World Cup at Terrassa, Spain and Amstelveen, Netherlands
* July 28-Aug 8: Commonwealth Games in Birmingham (men and women)
* September 10-25: Asian Games in Hangzhou, China (men and women)
(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)