The Indian men’s ice hockey team has moved up two spots to fourth in the latest FIH rankings after their rare back-to-back victories over world champions Germany and Australia in the Pro-League games in Rourkela.
Significantly, India overtook hockey powerhouse Australia, which fell one place to fifth.
Germany, who were at the top after winning the World Cup in Odisha in January, also slipped two places to third after losing two games in a row to India.
India won all of its four games – two each against Germany and Australia – in its FIH Pro League matches, played at Birsa Munda Stadium, the largest all-seater stadium in the world.
This is less than two months after India reached a shocking round of 16 at the World Cup, held here and in Bhubaneswar in January.
India won both legs against Germany 3-2 and 6-3, while beating Australia 5-4 and 4-3 in the first and second game on penalties (after 2-2 in regular time).
Not only did the all-win performance propel India to the top of the FIH Pro League points table, the Harmanpreet Singh-led side moved up two spots from previous sixth to fourth in the latest FIH rankings.
The Netherlands, who won bronze at the World Cup, are top of the list, while runners-up Belgium are second in the current rankings.
“These things (world rankings) are not that important to us. We don’t think about them when we play. Our only priority was to take our chances and keep the pressure on the opponent,” said India captain Harmanpreet Singh .
“Some of the youngsters who had the opportunity to show their talent also took the opportunity and did very well both for themselves and for the team,” said Harmanpreet, who is currently the top scorer in the ongoing FIH Pro League is 11 goals, ahead of Belgian Alexander Hendrickx (six goals).
The 21,000-seat Birsa Munda Stadium has proved a fortress for the Indian side, who have gone eight games unbeaten. The Indian team has won seven and drawn once locally.
India have played four games at the venue at the World Cup – two in the group stage and two in the classification stage – winning three times and drawing once. India defeated Spain 2-0 in the first group match and drew 0-0 with England in the second.
They defeated Wales 4-2 in the final group match at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar before losing to New Zealand on penalties in the crossover knockout match at the same venue to topple the showpiece.
The Indian team then won two classification games at the Birsa Munda Stadium and finished joint ninth at the World Cup.
“We’re happy to keep our record intact here in Rourkela. We haven’t lost a single game here in this great stadium. Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium is definitely very lucky for us,” said Harmanpreet.
“When you get that much love and encouragement from the fans, we want to go out there and win every single game,” said the drag-flicker ace, who scored twice in India’s tense penalty shootout win over Australia on Wednesday.
Australia had entered the FIH Pro League with almost half of the first XI being rookie players who were not in the World Championship roster. India also either dropped or sidelined eight players from the World Cup team, including high-ranking players such as Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh and Nilakanta Sharma.
One of the new players who shone brightly was forward Selvam Karthi, who is now the fourth-highest scorer in the FIH Pro League. Others like Sukhjeet Singh and Abhishek who were on the World Cup team also did well.
“We can take a lot of positive lessons from this outing here in Rourkela, which will help us as we prepare for the upcoming Asian Games,” added Harmanpreet, whose drag flick flopped in India’s World Cup campaign.