India aim to bounce back in Pro League
The World Cup exit hit them hard but the team has regrouped and is ready to push forward again.
The Indian hockey team suffered a painful exit from the World Cup in January. The agony was perhaps felt most acutely by Hardik Singh, who suffered a hamstring injury during the group stage match against England, and was ruled out of the quadrennial event.
The playmaker was arguably India's best player in Odisha. After scoring a sensational goal against Spain in the opener, he single-handedly created several chances in the 0-0 draw against England. His loss was a big blow to Harmanpreet Singh and company, who were knocked out in the crossover stage of the World Cup after they lost to New Zealand.
“Sitting outside (and watching India lose) was very difficult for me. For the first time, I was experiencing this -- getting injured in a big tournament. It exhausted me mentally. You spend four years to prepare for this tournament, you get injured, then it is over," said Hardik, who made his India debut in 2018, over a video call.
"It was very hard. The tournament was taking place at home. On top of that such a big tournament, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you get to play a World Cup at home. I have played two now. Both chances are lost.”
But the introspection stage is now over and the team is looking towards the future with the Pro League all set to resume. Hardik is fit and eager to prove a point against reigning world champions Germany and Tokyo Olympics silver medallists Australia in the mini-tournament that will be held from March 10 to 15 at the Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium in Rourkela.
With 86 international caps to his name, Hockey India (HI) has named the midfielder as the new vice-captain of the team, a mention of which immediately brings a huge smile to the face of the 24-year-old.
"I am feeling very good after becoming vice-captain. It is a big thing for me. When I debuted in 2018 I never thought I would be the vice-captain of the Indian team. Our former captains Manpreet (Singh), (PR) Sreejesh, current skipper Harmanpreet (Singh)... I will try my best to take forward the value systems they have implemented in the team," said Hardik, who was part of the team that won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics.
"At the same time, all the new athletes who are coming in, who have 5-10 caps, I will try to help them. I have come through the same phase so I know what is going through their mind. I have held meetings with them and I am sure the team will do well in the next four matches and prepare well for the Asian Games," added Hardik.
India will take on reigning world champions Germany in Rourkela on Friday before taking on Australia on March 12. India will face Germany again on March 13 before their facing Australia again on March 15.