Former player Mohammad Shahid said the team did not deserve to be in the tournament and let the entire nation down. The side, ranked 10th in the world, was not a serious contender this time but the eventual performance was not expected either. The skipper, Bharat Chetri, who was left stunned by the performance, said the team only went down with each match and the morale had taken a big blow. He said the team needed to learn more hockey. But has he himself learnt enough from the performance?
India, the eight-time gold winners in Olympic hockey, have not entered the semifinals since 1980, the last time they won medal at the Olympics. The team even failed to qualify for the Beijing Games in 2008 after losing the qualifiers to Great Britain but qualified this time after beating some low-placed teams in New Delhi.
Former Olympian Gurbux Singh said India now should look forward to the 2020 Games and nurture young talents to make the team a serious contender for a hockey medal at the Olympics. He said it will take eight minimum years to overhaul the woeful state of the sport in the country. Ajitpal Singh, who captained the side that won the 1975 Olympics, said the players were themselves responsible for the dismal show as they failed to make their international exposure count when it mattered the most.
He slammed the team, saying it comprised mediocre players and they were more than content in playing the Olympics. The Indians were struggling in defence, forward and half-line and players like Sandeep Singh, termed as one of the best drag-flickers in the world, failed to make a minimum impact. India conceded 18 goals while scored just six in the group matches. Even a lowly Belgium thrashed them 3-0.
Ashok Kumar, a former player and son of hockey wizard Dhyan Chand, slammed the national selectors for picking up inexperienced players for the Olympics. He said leaving out players like Rajpal Singh and Sarvanjit Singh did more harm to the team than favour. He also criticised the authorities for overlooking players from the World Series Hockey. Power tussle between the HI and IHF has hit the sport hard, he said. Former skipper Pargat Singh said the outfit hardly played like a team.
A bane of Indian hockey has been feuds within the team. Even in past Olympics, division within the team seriously challenged the team's prospects. But to what extent can this cripple the national interest was proved in London. India, on an average, had nearly 20 missed traps and gifted possession of balls to the opponents. The pressure was showing and the side crumbled as the tournament progressed. It looked as if the Australian coach, Michael Nobbs, was struggling to control things.
A DNA report said a couple of years ago, a few senior players of the hockey team had boycotted the national camp after they were taught the basics by the then chief coach, Jose Brasa. The egoist players did not care to go back to the basics and good performance at the Delhi Commonwealth Games, Asian Champions Trophy and the Olympic qualifiers inflated their egos all the more. They failed to fathom the toughness of the Olympic challenge and fell flat on their face.
Nobbs admitted that the players never abided by the plans charted out before the matches and it showed the lack of characters in them to challenge the opposition. The only fight they put was against the Netherlands in the first match when they came back from 0-2 to lose 2-3. But from there, they slumped to 1-3, 2-5, 1-4 and 0-3 defeats. The opponents marked Sardara Singh and SV Sunil, the two key men, to do enough to limit India's chances. Chetri said the team had played just 30 per cent of its potential, which is a shame. What more motivation do the Indian players need than the Olympic stage to give their cent per cent?
The coach, who apologised to the Indian fans for the poor performance, said the team would undergo changes. He is likely to continue and will get a new bunch of players who will go by his way of coaching. "It can not go on like this," he said.
(With inputs from agencies)