Hockey has once again captured the pulse of the nation as the FIH Men's World Cup 2023 is all set to kick-start in Odisha on 13 January.
The sport has made impressive improvements in the country in recent years. However, it is disheartening to say that a nation that ruled the world once, is now trying hard to earn the lost glory! But as it is said "something is better than nothing".
In 2021, the Indian men's hockey team managed to end a 41-year-long drought to claim a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
For the record, India's hockey team is the most successful team in the Olympics, having won a total of eight gold medals (in 1928, 1932, 1936, 1948, 1952, 1956, 1964 and 1980).
Now the Men in Blue face a bigger challenge of ending another longer drought - the wait for the Men's Hockey World Cup which has stretched to 47 years.
Since winning their first gold in the men's World Cup in 1975, India has failed to even reach the semifinal once even though five years after that triumph in Kuala Lumpur, they bagged their last gold medal at the Olympic Games - at the 1980 Games in Moscow.
India's golden period in this sport was between 1970 to 1980, known as the 'last years of dominance'.
To start with, the 1971 Men's Hockey World Cup was the inaugural edition of the event, which was proposed by Pakistan to be organised by them. However, the event was shifted to Barcelona because of the political crisis in Pakistan.
Pakistan were the inaugural World Cup winners. India, who lost to archrivals Pakistan in the semifinals, bagged the bronze medal at the 1971 World Cup by virtue of a win over Kenya
It was a strong team with the likes of Harmik Singh, Ashok Kumar, Charles Cornelius, and Ajitpal Singh who had a lot of experience playing at the international level being part of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico where they won a bronze.
The same team, more or less, won the bronze medal in the 1972 Munich Olympics, beating the Netherlands in the playoff. It was one of the great teams with Ajitpal Singh, Harmik Singh, Charles Cornelius, Harcharan Singh, M.P. Ganesh, V.J. Philips, Harbinder Singh and B.P. Govinda.
The team had topped their pool that included Netherlands, Great Britain, Australia and Kenya, who had finished fourth in the 1971 World Cup but lost to Pakistan 0-2 in the semifinal.
Runners-Up at the 1973 World Cup
There was then an interesting fact about the 1973 World Cup that India actually did not do well in the Pool phase and were held to a draw by New Zealand (1-1), who were invited after Australia pulled out, and were also held 0-0 by 1972 Olympic gold medallists West Germany, finishing second in the Pool. They met arch-rivals Pakistan in the semifinals, their rivals in 1971 WC and 1972 OG and this time won 1-0.
India, however, lost to the Netherlands 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out after being held 2-2 at the end of 70 minutes. It was an improvement on the bronze in the 1972 Munich Games as it came just a year after the Olympics.
The team had players like Surjit Singh, BP Govinda, Ashok Dhyanchand, Charles Cornelius and Ajitpal Singh.
World Champions in 1975
Then came the golden year, in the 1975 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur, India defeated Pakistan in the final, 2-1 with Ashok Dhyanchand scoring the winning goal.
Another crucial match in that event was the semifinal against Malaysia which India won 3-2 in extra time with Aslam Sher Khan scoring the crucial goal.
One of the reasons for India's success in this period (1971-75) was that the nucleus of the squad remained the same throughout.
Struggles on Astroturf Pitches
In the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, an astroturf hockey pitch was introduced, India struggled to maintain their dominance as they did on grass fields and for the first time ever returned home empty-handed. Another proof of the hockey world turning upside down comes from the fact that New Zealand won their lone Olympic gold medal in the 1976 Olympics.
The 1980 Olympics was held in Moscow, India started their campaign with an 18-0 win over Tanzania followed by a 2-2 draw with Poland and Spain which were followed by a resounding win over Cuba with a margin of 13-0 and a win over the Soviet Union by a scoreline of 4-2.
It was a much-depleted field as most of the European countries and Australia and Pakistan joined the American-led boycott of the Games in Moscow.
India went on to win the gold medal for a record eighth time by defeating Spain in the final by the score of 4-3.
The rest, as they say, is history!
Fans now wait for India to show their magic and bring back the lost glory, which actually has been initiated in 2021 again. They need to keep up the momentum and win a medal and end the drought. Fingers crossed!