FIH Pro League 2020: Will India live up to dreams of *Ric Charlesworth?

In the only FIH Hockey Pro League double-header scheduled to take place in Match Week 7, reigning men’s champions Australia will play hosts India at Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium on February 21 and 22. Much before the visiting Australia squad coached by Colin Batch, who has just been crowned the best men’s coach by the International Hockey Federation (FIH), arrived in India, an academic debate – Can India beat the Kangaroos?  – has gripped the hockey fraternity the world over.

Hockey legend Ric Charlesworth, may still be nursing a desire to see India regain its lost glory under an Australia coach, if not him. Though he wanted to coach the country that gave Australians their hockey glory, yet all his sincerity, wishes and commitments fell short of getting him accomplish his dream.

He did come to India, on a hockey assignment, but went back disappointed and frustrated. Still he did not give up hope. He was in Bhubaneshwar during the 2018 Odisha World Cup for men fuelling speculations that he may take up his dream assignment now. But it was not to be. Instead, it was Graham Reid who came in after experiments with Indian coach Harendra Singh and Dutch coach Sjoerd Marijne did not meet the requirements of the Hockey India bosses.

Putting behind the 2018 World Cup debacle, Graham Reid, for many, has been able to put the Indian team together by not only getting it through the Olympic Qualifiers but also with some consistent performances that warmed the cockles of hearts of hardcore hockey enthusiasts the world over. These include the recent showings against the Netherlands and Belgium in the first four games of the FIH Pro League 2020. They have revived hopes that India can emerge like a Phoenix on contemporary hockey scene. And no one would be happier than Ric Charlesworth in case Graham Reid is successful in guiding destiny of Indian hockey to glory in the year of Olympic Games.

Meetings between India and Australia are seldom short of entertainment, something which is unlikely to change when these two giants of the game go head-to-head at the Kalinga Stadium. India has made an excellent start on its debut in the FIH Hockey Pro League season, currently sitting third with eight points. The team claimed five points from a possible six against the Netherlands before claiming another three in a stunning 2-1 victory over Belgium, the reigning World and European champions. The Red Lions bounced back with a 3-2 win in the second match, but few would dispute that India – coached by former Australian international Graham Reid and captained by newly crowned FIH Men’s Player of the Year Manpreet Singh – are playing some of their best and most consistent hockey in years.

Australia have an outstanding recent record against India, having won 22 of their last 30 meetings and not tasted defeat since a 2016 Test match in Bendigo (Australia), when Raghunath Vokkaliga scored twice in a 3-2 win for the Indians. Australia – coached by Colin Batch, who was recently named 2019 Men’s FIH Coach of the Year – also has an imperious record at the Kalinga Stadium, a venue where it has not suffered a defeat in regular time since a semi-final loss at the hands of Germany at the Hero Champions Trophy in 2014. The Australians were unbeaten in all six matches on the way to claiming the title at the 2017 Hockey World League Final, and won five out of six matches at the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2018, with only the Netherlands getting the better of them in a semi-final shoot-out after regular time finish of 2-2. As well as being extremely comfortable in their surroundings, their recent performances against Great Britain – where they claimed five points from six, recovering from a difficult opening weekend against Belgium in which they earned just one point from their two matches –  ensures that the Kookaburras will be in confident mood coming into these fixtures.

The essentials..

Current FIH World Rankings
India: 4 | Australia: 2

Final standings – FIH Hockey Pro League 2019
India: N/A (debut season) | Australia: 1

Head-to-heads in all competitions (since 2013 – 30 matches)

Wins: India: 6 | Australia: 22 | Draws: 2

Goals scored: India: 47 | Australia: 93

Current FIH Hockey Pro League position
India: 3 | Australia: 5

FIH Hockey Pro League 2020 – Results to date
India 5 Netherlands 2

India 3 Netherlands 3, 3-1 after shootout

India 2 Belgium 1

India 2    Belgium 3,

Australia 2 Belgium 2, 2-4 after shootout
Australia 2 Belgium 4

Australia 4 Great Britain 4, Australia 4, Australia win 3-1 after shootout

Australia 5 Great Britain 1

Top Scorers

India: Mandeep Singh & Rupinder Singh – 3 goals each

Australia: Tom Craig, Jeremy Hayward, Trent Mitton & Lachlan Sharp – 2 goals each

3-1 after shootout

*See 2005  The Tribune interview of Ric Charlesworth