Image: Hockey India/Twitter
The Indian men's hockey team jumped two places to fourth in the latest FIH rankings on the back of its rare back-back-wins against world champions Germany and Australia in the Pro League matches in Rourkela.
Significantly, India moved ahead of hockey powerhouse Australia, who dropped one place to fifth. Germany, who were on top spot after winning World Cup title in Odisha in January, also slipped two places to third spot after losing back-to-back matches to India.
India won all their four matches -- two each against Germany and Australia -- in their FIH Pro League matches played at the Birsa Munda Stadium, the world's largest all-seater venue.
This is less than two months after India made a shocking last 16 exit in the World Cup held here and in Bhubaneswar in January.
India won both the double-legged matches against Germany 3-2 and 6-3 while they beat Australia 5-4 and 4-3 in penalty shootout (after 2-2 in regulation time) in the first and second games.
Not only the all-win performance took India to the top of the FIH Pro League points table, the side led by Harmanpreet Singh jumped two places from earlier sixth to fourth in the latest FIH rankings.
The Netherlands, who won bronze in the World Cup, are at the top spot while runners-up Belgium occupy the second place in the latest rankings.
"These things (world ranking) don't matter to us so much. We don't keep this in mind when we play. Our only priority was to convert our chances and keep the pressure on the opponent," India captain Harmanpreet Singh said.
"Some of the youngsters who got an opportunity to show their talent also stood up to the occasion and did very well for themselves as well as the team," said Harmanpreet, who is currently the leading goal-scorer in the ongoing FIH Pro League with 11 goals, ahead of Belgium's Alexander Hendrickx (six goals).
The 21,000-capacity Birsa Munda Stadium has turned out to be a fortress for the Indian team remained unbeaten in eight matches. The Indian team has won seven and drawn once at the venue. India played four matches at the venue in the World Cup -- two in group stage and two in the classification stage -- and won thrice and drawn once. India beat Spain 2-0 in the first group match and played out a 0-0 draw against England in the second.
It beat Wales 4-2 in the last group match at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar before losing to New Zealand in penalty shootout in the knockout crossover game at the same venue to crash out of the showpiece. The Indian team then won two classification matches at the Birsa Munda Stadium to finish at joint ninth place in the World Cup.
"We are happy to keep our record intact here in Rourkela. We haven't lost a single match here in this magnificent stadium. Definitely, the Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium is very lucky for us," Harmanpreet said.
"When you get so much love and encouragement from fans, we want to go out there and win every single game," said the ace drag-flicker who scored twice in India's tense shootout victory against Australia on Wednesday.
Australia had come to the FIH Pro League with almost half of the first XI being rookie players who were not in the World Cup squad. India also either dropped or rested eight players from the World Cup team, including senior players like Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh and Nilakanta Sharma.
One of the new players who shone bright was striker Selvam Karthi, who is now the fourth highest goal-scorer in the FIH Pro League. Others like Sukhjeet Singh and Abhishek, who were in the World Cup team, also did well.
"There are many positive takeaways for us from this outing here in Rourkela which will hold us in good stead as we prepare for the upcoming Asian Games," added Harmanpreet, who flopped with his drag-flick in India's World Cup campaign.
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