Following that triumph, India shockingly went from invincibles to invisibles, failing to clinch a medal in nine consecutive editions of the Games. But on Thursday, the Manpreet Singh-led side wrote a new chapter in the history books by ending a four decade-long drought with bronze at Tokyo 2020. Baskaran, who experienced a wide range of emotions following the final hooter in the play-off against Germany, sang the praises of Graham Reid and Co. In an interaction with DT Next, the 70-year-old said that India’s bronze-medal show in Tokyo is as pivotal as the top-place finish in Moscow.
What are your initial thoughts on India’s historic bronze medal-winning campaign at the Tokyo Olympic Games?
The Indian boys had a fantastic journey. People who talked a lot about our 1-7 loss against Australia will stay silent. About six month ago, I had said that I would be disappointed if the India men’s team doesn’t make it to the podium at the Olympics. That was my take on this team, and the boys proved their worth. They took it game by game, winning the last three Pool matches and qualifying for the semi-finals. The team did go down 2-5 to Belgium in the last-four stage, but bounced back once again. Overall, it was a wonderful effort from the boys, who challenged every opponent that came their way.
Could you talk us through the final few seconds in the lead up to India’s win, in the play-off against the mighty Germans?
Our team in 1980 faced a similar match situation. Spain earned three penalty corners in the last few minutes of the final while trailing 3-4. I managed to clear two of them off the goal line and that is why we finished with the gold medal. In Thursday’s match, India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh made a fine save off a penalty corner with just six seconds remaining. So in my opinion, the bronze medal is equivalent to the gold we had clinched.
How delighted are you with the fact that the 41-year wait has finally come to an end in 2021?
I am extremely happy. I would give a lot of credit to Hockey India (HI), which came up with a process chart. A number of players in the current India senior squad were a part of the Junior World Cup team in 2016. A process will take time in a team game, but one can achieve success with it. I strongly believe in processes. Graham Reid should remain head coach and the same team can continue for a few more years.
The men’s team has managed to clinch an Olympic medal despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. How special is this achievement?
The players stayed away from their families for more than a year. After the European tour, the India team came straight back to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Centre in Bengaluru. Even the coach didn’t travel to his homeland – Australia – to take a break. The boys would have learnt a lot off the field during that period. While playing matches in situations like these in a pandemic-affected year, one needs to have mental toughness. The fear of catching the coronavirus was much higher in India than in other countries. Some of the players were unfortunately infected by it earlier in the year. Taking into account all these, the boys showed a lot of guts. The team played its heart out in every match. The players’ sacrifices helped the team get a bronze medal.