A few days ago, Star Sports released an advertisement which won many a heart. The commercial depicted some of India’s leading men's hockey players at a press conference, proudly proclaiming their achievements in the last year or so before finally declaring that they’d be going to play the World Hockey League semi-finals in Belgium, Desh Ke Liye.

It certainly looks like they’re living up to that claim. Two games into the tournament and India are sitting pretty on top of Pool A, having won both their games against France and Poland. Of course, a little bit of that good feeling is tempered by the fact that their female counterparts, the women’s hockey team, has just lost two on the trot, the last one a 5-0 thrashing by New Zealand. However, the women’s team still has another two games left to bounce back.

An unconvincing win against France

Being the Asian Games champions, India would have probably expected a facile victory when they launched their campaign against France, ranked 18th. However, France proved quite a handful for the Indians. They took the lead in the 3rd minute and kept troubling the Indian defence. India scored two goals in quick succession in the 26th and 29th minutes through Manpreet Singh and Devindar Walmiki. France hit right back to level terms in the 43rd. It felt like the match was heading towards a 2-2 draw, but two minutes before the hooter went, India’s captain Sardar Singh sent the ball into the circle, and Ramandeep Singh managed to divert it into the net.

India eventually won 3-2, but the nature of victory wasn’t too impressive. The defending hadn’t been up to the mark, the passing wasn’t great and too many chances had been squandered. However, a win was a win and the three points on offer had duly been snapped up.

Much more assured against Poland

Nevertheless, India swept away a lot of those doubts in their next game against Poland. In a far more assured performance, the team rarely looked troubled and pumped in three goals. This time, the defence was on the ball, not allowing Poland even a sight at goal.

Yuvraj Walmiki opened the scoring for India in the 23rd minute, while his brother Devindar got his second goal of the tournament in the 52nd. Sardar Singh, who was instrumental in that winning goal against France, also got on the scoresheet in what turned out to be a fine display for India.

Consequently, India look a much more confident lot, but the real test will arrive in the next two games against much tougher opposition. Although India have won two out of two, their penalty corner conversion is still a major issue and as coach Paul van Ass has pointed out, they’ve greatly missed the services of ace drag flicker Rupinder Pal Singh, who sat out the first two games due to injury.

However, van Ass indicated that Pal Singh would play the next match against arch-rivals Pakistan. Pakistan secured a narrow victory against Poland and plays Australia before taking on India, but will surely prove a much tougher opponent. India’s last game in the group stage is against hockey powerhouse Australia, ranked first in the world, who announced their entry in the tournament with a 10-0 thrashing of France.

Amidst the doom and gloom, Indian hockey has been steadily going places and the good start at the World Hockey League semi-finals is a reflection of this. The sustained success has allowed the team to believe in themselves, which is a very good omen for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Two tough games still remain, but don’t put it past this resurgent Indian team to defeat arch-rival Pakistan and even stand firm against a mighty Australia.