Journey of Indian men’s hockey team in quest for World No.1

Hangzhou: For close to a century, India has peaked in hockey, from winning Olympic gold medals to World Cup glory. But despite their overwhelming dominance, India’s men’s team has never been world No.1 as the ranking system was introduced only in 2003.

Under the new ranking system, the seedings and pools of the teams were determined by their performances at tournaments organised by the International Hockey Federation.

Since this method was unfavourable for smaller nations, a new system was adopted which is based on the Elo rating system. This system is used in chess, football, table tennis, American football and Major League Baseball (MLB).

In this approach, every hockey match is taken into consideration to reflect the current form of teams.

The number of ranking points earned or lost depended on the result of the match, the relative ranking of the teams and the importance of the match or tournament.

This means that the number of ranking points gained by one team is exactly matched by the number of points lost by the other. Teams win more points for beating higher-ranked opponents, and therefore teams lose more points for losing to a side ranked below them.

Since the implementation of the new ranking system, Indian hockey team ranking has fluctuated over the years.

The men’s team was ranked sixth when the hockey ranking system was introduced in 2003.

In the same year, India won the Asia Cup for the first time by beating arch-rivals Pakistan.

But India’s form soon took a dip, and they were crashing out of tournaments early on. They came seventh in the eight-nation Rabo Trophy in 2005 and were last in the 2005 Champions Trophy as well.

Although India were struggling to win tournaments, they maintained their position in the top 10 since the hockey ranking system considered results from a four-year cycle. A bronze medal at the 2007 Champions Challenge also helped India’s cause.

Indian hockey’s dip in form soon reflected in the rankings.

The Indian men’s hockey team lost five of its seven matches at the 2006 Hockey World Cup to end the tournament in 11th position.

The Indian hockey team then failed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time in 80 years, missing the cut for Beijing 2008.

The dismal run meant India dropped out of the top 10 of the hockey rankings for the first time in 2008.

Former world champions India hosted the World Cup in 2010 but only won once in the pool stage and ended the tournament in eighth place.

This further dropped India to 12th, which is their worst hockey rank ever to date.

India’s performances saw a gradual improvement in the next decade.

India won the Asian Champions Trophy four times (2011, 2016 and 2018), along with the 2014 Asian Games and the 2017 Asia Cup. India were also medallists at the Champions Trophy, the Commonwealth Games and the Hockey World League.

The steady improvement reflected in the hockey rankings and India were up to fifth when the old ranking system was replaced in 2020.

Indian men reached their highest ranking – third – in 2021 after winning the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. It was their first Olympic medal in 41 years.

Since then, India men finished third in the Asian Champions Trophy 2021, FIH Pro League 2021-22 and at the Asia Cup 2022. At the Commonwealth Games 2022 in Birmingham they won a silver medal and then managed to reclaim the Asian Champions Trophy title in 2023.

The Indian men’s hockey team is currently ranked third in the world.


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