What the Asia Cup means for Indian hockey

It is no secret that India has moved far ahead of the graph in Asia. The team holds the Asian Games, Asia Cup and the Asian Champions Trophy to be undisputed king of the continent. It's time now to look beyond.

Indian Hockey team players pose with the Hero Asia Cup 2017 trophy on their arrival at the IGI Airport on Monday.   -  PTI

A decade is a long, long time in sports. A decade ago, on a warm, muggy September night in 2007, the Dr. Radhakrishnan Stadium in Chennai was packed with more people it could hold, there were as many inside as outside and the Indians ran roughshod over an off-colour South Korea to retain the hockey Asia Cup.

The only survivors from that victory at Dhaka on Sunday night were SV Sunil, now the vice-captain, who made his senior international debut in that competition, and Sardar Singh, still learning the ropes and unsure of his spot in the national side. Incidentally, both were awarded earlier this year – Sardar received the Khel Ratna and Sunil the Arjuna award. There were few in the stands to savour the win this time around but the Indian dominance was similar.

India clinches 2017 Asia Cup

“I feel extremely lucky to play for so long and it feels really special. I do not have words to express my happiness. More so since, like the last time, we did not lose a single game through the competition. I have waited ten years hold this trophy again. Both titles are special – 2007 because it was my debut as a young player and now, in 2017, as a senior player with the responsibility to guide the youngsters,” SV Sunil told Sportstar after the game.

That win sparked hopes of the umpteenth revival of Indian hockey. Six months later, India lost a single game and crashed out of the Olympics for the first time ever. Despite the steady climb in rankings in the past few years, the Asia Cup has eluded India. Caution, therefore, is a by-word in every appreciation at the moment.

“It's a great win. But the team and management will have to regroup quickly. The HWL Finals will be a different ball game altogether, both in terms of competition and opposition. We finished on the podium in 2015 so we need to maintain that,” VR Raghunath, who also gained prominence from the 2007 win, advised.

Coach Sjoerd Marijne has admitted consistency is a concern. But his attempts to make the players equal stakeholders in not just the result but also the planning has, for now, paid off. There have also been questions on the quality of opposition.

It is no secret that India has moved far ahead of the graph in Asia. The team holds the Asian Games, Asia Cup and the Asian Champions Trophy to be undisputed king of the continent. It's time now to look beyond.