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Action time for hockey stars after 8-year wait
- Can Abhinav Bindra recreate the golden magic of Beijing today?

London: There is no dearth of tourist spots in London, but the only place drag flicker Sandeep Singh would like to visit is the Bushey Station. Ever since the star Indian defender came to know about the local organising committee’s decision to rename the station after former Indian hockey star Leslie Claudius, he has been hoping to go to the station to see how it looks.

“An important station in London being named after an Indian hockey player is a huge thing,” Sandeep told The Telegraph. “I can imagine how much influence India had on the game during those days.”

On Monday, the Indian hockey team will play their first Olympic match in eight years, against the Netherlands, but the keen followers of the game aren’t too optimistic about India’s performance.

Runaway winners in hockey when London hosted the Olympics in 1948, India are now rated strugglers of the game. When reminded, Sandeep stopped for a moment and said: “I sincerely hope we return from London the same way as Claudius and other players did in 1948 All I can say is that there would be no lack of effort on our part.”

But then, all said and done, Indian hockey nowadays is more about emotions, as the reality has not been rosy. Chief coach Michael Nobbs has often talked about the aim of finishing fifth or sixth at the Games. Some of the former stars, however, are a little more optimistic and said that it would be a miracle if the team reached the last four.

Winners of two back-to-back gold medals in 1996 and 2000, the Netherlands are not the same team which they used to be. Still, they are good enough to get the better of the Indians, led by Kalimgpong-born goalkeeper Bharat Chetri. The Indians are taking heart from the fact that both Sardar Singh and Ignace Tirkey are fit .

Majority of Indian fans present here are still not sure whether to throng the hockey stadium to cheer Nobbs’ boys, or visit the shooting range to watch Abhinav Bindra in action in the 10 metre air rifle event. After all, it was Bindra who brought India’s lone gold in Beijing four years ago.

While chances of hockey earning India glory is remote, Bindra is one of the favourites for a podium finish. Along with Bindra, there’s Gagan Narang, winner of five gold medals in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

The expectations from Bindra are really huge, and it is perfectly justified. Who can forget his great 10.7 last shot to clinch the gold in the world championship or the 10.8 that fetched India their first individual gold in the Olympics!

Apart from changing the face of the sport, Bindra has become an icon, one of India’s greatest sporting ambassadors.

Bindra had rigorous sessions in the training ranges in Europe for the past year. And his rich form was well on display when he was crowned Asian champion, in February, thus sending a strong message to China’s Zhu Qinan, one of his main competitors.

“We are all going to watch Bindra in action,” said an excited Indian fan.

There was, however, some drama over Narang’s shooting jacket during the official training. As it was not fitting, the jacket had to be cut a bit to adjust. There was also good news for Narang as his coach Stanislav Lapidus, who was in hospital because of fever, would be back at the range .