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September 27, 2000
Downcast India vs recharged Britain
Jaideep Singh in Sydney
The depressive mood in the Indian hockey camp is understandable after seeing the medal aspirations spiked by the draw against Poland on Tuesday, but there's a lot more to play for to take India into the world's top six.
Indian hockey has not seen the top six place since the 1994 World Cup in Sydney itself when the Jude Felix-led team surprised the game pundits with a determined performance.
The boys are struggling to shrug off the fact that they allowed things to drift away against the none-too-formidable Poland and this downcast mood is India's biggest worry as they brace to take on Britain in the play-off for the fifth to eighth places.
"Play for pride," is skipper Ramandeep Singh's message to the boys, all of whom last night went through the pangs of shattered dreams - - dreams which were to mark the return of Indian hockey among the top echelons.
"Play the match against Britain as if it is your final," were the words of former Indian captain Gurbax Singh to the team last night, when it seemed the boys no longer would have the spirit to go through the remaining two games.
A show of resolution is the need of the hour if India is to clinch their rightful place in the Champions Trophy after a five-year hiatus. The hard work of the players will come to naught if India fall into the abyss that comes naturally to broken men.
India last figured in the Champions Trophy in 1996, in Madras, on the basis of being the hosts, after having played in Berlin the previous year as a rightful top-six finisher in the 1994 World Cup.
India has only figured in eight of the 22 Champions Trophy editions, which is a clear reflection how the top-notch side in world hockey has slumped since this competition's inception in 1978.
More than anything else, Thursday's first play-off for the fifth to eighth spots will show the Indian team's mettle. The situation isn't something for which Indian teams in past have displayed a big heart.
That the early morning matches are always India's problem spot is now well known. A recharged Britain, who came back from the brink on Wednesday to beat Germany and stay in the contest for the 5th to 8th spots, isn't the only worry for the Indian team management.
The manner in which Indian teams go through the motions in play-offs for minor-placings is the biggest problem confronting coach Vasudevan Bhaskaran and his deputy Harendra Singh. Lifting the spirits to come out afresh against Britain isn't going to be easy.
The recent history of India's encounters with Britian in these play-offs has set a pattern that will need an extra effort from the Indian team to reverse.
The way the Indians gave way to England in the bronze medal match at the 1998 Commonwealth Games after the shattering semi-final loss to Malaysia is indicative of India's lethargy after missing out on the major prizes.
Playing on the team's mind also is the defeat against Britian in the Atlanta Olympics play-offs for the seventh and eighth spots which pushed India to their lowest-ever ranking in an event that it had dominated for several decades.
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