Hockey India, the governing body of the national sport in the country, finally decided to send a full-strength squad of the Indian Men's hockey team for the upcoming Commonwealth Games 2022, being held in Birmingham, United Kingdom.
The team was announced on Monday, June 20, 2022, and it included big names like skipper Manpreet Singh, experienced goalkeeper PR Sreejesh and super striker, Mandeep Singh. It was decided earlier by Hockey India that a second-string team would be sent for Commonwealth Games since the gap between Asian Games, the qualifying event for Paris Olympics 2024, and the CWG was very short, and thus Asian Games became a priority.
Since the Asian Games have been postponed to 2023 due to the Covid-19 situation in China, the host nation for the continental event, it has come as a blessing in disguise for the Indian hockey team as they are going to compete with a full-strength squad at the quadrennial event in the UK.
Preparation for World Cup 2023
The 2023 Men's Hockey World Cup will be hosted in India. After the 2020 Olympics, where India won a medal for the first time in over 40 years, hopes are high from the home team to win the World Cup as well. The only time India won the Hockey World Cup was in 1975 in Kuala Lumpur. It has been 48 years since, and India hasn't even managed to make the final four since.
The Hockey World Cup 2023 will begin in January 2023, and India has no international tournament to play between the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games. Thus Birmingham 2022 could be an ideal preparation given that there would be teams as strong as Australia, England and New Zealand to compete with.
Other than the Commonwealth Games in July-August, India will only play Spain and New Zealand in November 2022, according to the FIH's official calendar.
No Olympic Qualification pressure
The main reason for not sending the full-strength Indian Men's Hockey team to the CWG 2022 was that if the campaign were unsuccessful, it would have added up the pressure for the Asian Games 2022, which would have taken place just a month after Birmingham 2022.
Now that the Asian Games have been postponed to 2023, the Indian team can play freely and to the best of their ability and try and avenge the losses of the 2018 edition of the Commonwealth Games, where the men in blue returned without a medal, finishing fourth.
Mitigating Asia Cup shortcomings
The last two multinational tournaments after the grand success of the Olympics haven't boosted India's morale as they finished third in both the Asin Champions Trophy in December 2021 and the Asia Cup in May-June 2022. While the Asia Cup squad was second string, it did improve as time passed. The Asian Champions Trophy squad, though, did have experienced players, and yet it failed to reach the final.
The attack was lacking in the Champions Trophy, and it took time for the new players to settle on the field during the early stages of the Asia Cup. It is these shortcomings that Team India coach Graham Reid needs to work upon and mitigate before and during the Commonwealth Games.
Trying out the best before important tournaments
Though the full-strength squad has been selected for the CWG 2022, Team India has tried a lot of players in the previous tournaments and the Pro League. Important tournaments like the World Cup and Asian Games in 2023 and eventually the Olympics in 2024 would require India to select its best 20 players.
A noteworthy performance at Birmingham 2022 might open doors further for youngsters like Abhishek, Surender Kumar and Samsher Singh, while it can also close doors for non-performers. Therefore sending the full-strength squad to a high-octane situation like the CWG was necessary.
Big boost to the rest of the contingent
It is no more a secret that in multi-sport events, the success of one team or an individual lifts the entire contingent of a nation. The Indian hockey team is on a high, and a full-strength side winning games against the likes of England and Australia could lift the spirits of all players and eventually help improve India's medal tally.
India's Squad for the Commonwealth Games 2022
Goalkeepers: PR Sreejesh, Krishan Bahadur Pathak.
Defenders: Varun Kumar, Surender Kumar, Harmanpreet Singh, Amit Rohidas, Jugraj Singh, Jarmanpreet Singh.
Midfielders: Manpreet Singh (c), Hardik Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad, Shamsher Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Nilakanta Sharma.
Forwards: Mandeep Singh, Gurjant Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Abhishek.