New Delhi: A few disappointments aside, it was all about Indian hockey’s phenomenal rise in stature, both on and off the field, in 2016 with a historic silver medal in the Champions Trophy and Junior World Cup title after a hiatus of 15 years being the biggest achievements.
If the Champions Trophy silver, gold in Asian Champions Trophy and Junior World Cup title were the high points on the turf, former Hockey India chief Narinder Batra’s election to the post of International Hockey Federation (FIH) President was the talking point off the pitch in the year goneby.
Batra was unanimously elected to the FIH President’s post in November this year, thus becoming the first Indian and Asian to head the world body since its inception.
Batra’s elevation to the FIH chief’s post has also changed the power centre of world hockey from Europe to Asia.
2016 was an Olympic year and much was expected from India and the eight-time Olympic champions did achieve success on the pitch barring a few failures — major among them being a loss to Pakistan in the final of the SAF Games and a quarterfinal exit in the Rio Games.
But at the fag end of the year, the Indian colts lifted the Junior World Cup title after a long gap of 15 years on their home turf in Lucknow.
The year, however, started on a bad note for the sport.
For those who believe in perfect starts, defeat at the hands of arch-rivals Pakistan in Guwahati in the SAF Games final for the third consecutive time was as disastrous a beginning as one could imagine.
In the earlier two editions of the Games in 2006 and 2010, Pakistan had won the gold by beating India.
But the SAF Games team did give India two players — goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya and Ajit Kumar Pandey — who played an major role in the nation’s title triumph in the Junior World Cup later in the year.
Meanwhile, the senior men’s side travelled to Ipoh, Malaysia for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, a tournament looked upon as a preparation for the Rio Olympics.
Dutchman Roelant Oltmans’ was at the helm and was given the charge of preparing the side for the Olympics following the unceremonious exits of Terry Walsh and Paul van Ass.
In the Azlan Shah Cup, it was smooth sailing for India till the final where they were hammered 4-0 by the mighty Australians.
The thrashing once again raised questions about India’s submission against big teams in big matches and Oltmans was desperate to prove the theory wrong in his next assignment.
The Dutchman, a master tactician, then decided to change the composition of the team and he was helped by a rare controversy involving the talismanic Sardar Singh.
Then Indian captain was accused of sexual exploitation by a British citizen, Ashpal Kaur Bhogal, and to keep him safe the ace midfielder was left out from the London-bound Champions Trophy squad.
In the Champions Trophy, the Indians played out of their skins to reach the title clash, where they probably played their best match of not only the year against a very strong Australian outfit only to end on the losing side.
Despite the loss, the Indian team created history — a Champions Trophy silver as they had never gone beyond the bronze earlier.