World Cup-winning hockey legend Ashok Kumar on Wednesday said it would be difficult for the Indian men’s team to keep up the momentum that seemed good enough for a long-awaited Olympic podium finish had the Games been held as scheduled this year.
A key member of the 1975 world champion team and a bronze-medallist at the Munich Olympics can’t help but wonder whether the Manpreet Singh-led team would shape up as nicely next year, as it did this year after a stellar 2019.
“If the Olympics were held this year, we definitely had some chances. We had shown improvement and we could have got some good results there,” Kumar, who scored the winning goal against Pakistan in the 1975 World Cup final,.
“Definitely, there is a break in momentum and it will really make a big difference. You can’t say now (that we will win medal). We will talk about it next year seeing how they perform in the build up to the Olympics.”
In fact, Kumar feels that coach Graham Reid will also be a bit circumspect due to this prolonged forced break.
“Even (head coach) Graham Reid will have a big question mark going on his head now. Coaching is going on inside closed doors. Unless you see them in real matches, how will you assess… He’s not a machine.”
India’s best show in 2019 came against world’s top ranked team Belgium, beating a full strength side 2-1 in a Pro League encounter. India also had a commendable 2-2 draw against the formidable Australia in a Pro League game before world came to a standstill due to the pandemic.
The 70-year-old further said the women’s team was also in great shape and would have done well had the Olympics been held this year.
“Even our women’s team were in the peak of their form and they too had bright chances but now we never know. We will talk about the Olympics only next year,” he said, remembering the team’s 5-1 thumping win over the USA in the first leg Olympic Qualifier.
The men’s team will have a packed calendar when sports resume post pandemic as it is slated to play in the Asian Champions Trophy in November before its tour to Malaysia and then a Four-Nation tournament in New Zealand early next year.
It will then compete in the Pro League against Argentina with back-to-back matches till end of May in the build up to Tokyo 2021.
India, which lost to Belgium in the Rio 2016 quarterfinals, has not won an Olympic medal since Moscow 1980 where it won a gold medal.
“It depends how they regroup and how they keep the spirit high. They have to stay motivated, it’s purely an individual thing,” the star dribbler of yesteryears said.
Kumar however believed that India has improved a lot in the recent past by bolstering its defence. “We have a balanced squad at the moment. We have plugged the hole of leaking goals at the last minute. Our defence is much better now.”
“We have some good drag-flickers in Rupinder Pal Singh and Simarnjeet Singh. The forwards just need to combine a bit more and show ball anticipation.”