The weight of expectations was perhaps not so much on the Indian men’s hockey team when they embarked for Jakarta to feature in the 11th Asia Cup because it comprised a largely inexperienced side with as many as twelve debutants. At the end of it, hockey fans would be more than ‘happy’ with the way the Birendra Lakra-captained Indian side brought their resilience to the fore and cornered a bronze medal after an appalling start to their Asia Cup campaign.
The format of the 11th Asia Cup was such that India ended up playing Japan thrice in the tournament – they lost tamely to them 2-5 in the pool phase but beat them 2-1 in the Super 4s stage. And in the bronze medal play-off, India realised the importance of starting on a strong note – Uttam Singh, who has shown a lot of promise but has also been guilty of missing chances, weaved his away from the right and amidst a maze of Japanese defenders, relayed it to Rajkumar Pal who slotted home – Japan was pushed on the backfoot by the collective damage of the ‘Ghazipur Gang’.
The Samurai did take the fight to India but the defence of the latter blunted everything thrown at them. Japan had only themselves to blame – they squandered seven shorties and that proved costly in the final analysis. Of course, Japan did not make it easy for India after conceding an early goal as short corners were few and far between for India.
India can build on the positives from the 11th Asia Cup and it won’t be a surprise if a large chunk of these boys make it to the first-choice senior team in the future. The message is loud and clear – the depth of talent in Indian hockey has to be respected and handled with care.