Friday, April 9, 2010


In the recently concluded World Cup Hockey Tournament, India finished eighth among the twelve elite national hockey teams in the world. It won one match, against Pakistan, drew one with South Africa, lost three matches at the league stage, to Australia, the eventual champions, England, the semi-finalists, Spain, the fifth place team, and later, to Argentina, who, by defeating India, occupied the seventh place. India conceded more goals than any other team in the edition of the World Cup, and did not score a reassuring number of goals.

Having said this, I thought India did not do badly at all; in fact, one could say it did rather well. India is not playing in the coming Olympics. It is not one of the best two teams in Asia, and one must not forget that it did not participate in the 2010 World Cup tournament on merit, but only as the host team. The first six in this World Cup, Australia, Germany, Holland, England, Spain, and South Korea, were clearly better teams. Argentina was not decisively better than India, but was not decisively worse either. Since one match decides things, the eighth position for India is not disappointing.

But if the country felt disappointed, the reason is India’s awesome past record: eight Olympic gold medals, one World Cup gold, undisputed supremacy for thirty two years continuously from 1928, because of which it was accorded the status of the national game of the country, and then one of the top two or three teams for another twenty years or so. One tends to forget that it has not been among the very best teams in the world for about two decades now. On the global stage, the eighth position in the World Cup is perhaps our best achievement during the last sixteen years. This must be taken as encouraging, and we should compliment the team and its coach.

There need not be a podium finish each time a country plays an international tournament at the highest level; the Indian hockey team in 1984 Olympics was better than its fifth place finish. The Brazilian football team in 1982 World Cup was arguably the best in the competition, but it did not even reach the quarterfinal stage. I consider it sufficient achievement for a team at the global level if it is taken seriously and seen as a potential podium finisher by the other teams of the tournament. Like Brazil in Football World Cup – “the eternal favourites” from 1930 till date. This does not hold for India in hockey any more.

As far as I am concerned, the real downslide started with the introduction of the synthetic turf. India finished seventh in 1976 Olympics when for the first time the game was played on such turf. For almost more than a decade Indian hockey players hardly had adequate practice on synthetic turf before they went to participate in international tournaments. And equally importantly, our hockey experts completely failed to study the change that this, and the changes in the rules of the game were likely to bring about in the game. We satisfied ourselves saying that all this was Western conspiracy to end the supremacy of the subcontinent in the game. The basically uninformed debate, whenever it took place (and not often, I’m afraid), was about whether India should play its traditional style or change, and related to this, whether or not India should have foreign coaches, and the decision was almost always against change, and foreign coaches. India continued to play the game in the same old style, continued to forget that it is a team game, and continued to lose, and reach new lows. We did see some (only some) encouraging change in the style in 2010 World Cup, most players not hanging on to the ball too long, for example. But we are way behind the best in this, and one surely did not fail to notice that the team did depend on individual brilliance (not that much “brilliance” was in view, to be realistic), and other traditional habits. Hopefully things will change for the better.

1 comment:

Shashank said...

Dear Sir,

I read your blog and I don't disagree anywhere.
You are cent-percent right.
Keep writing.

Best regards,