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September 26, 2000
This is pain!
Four years of blood, sweat, tears and all the cliches, adjective and superlatives you can think of that might come close to describing the kind of blood, sweat, tears and all the cliches, adjective and superlatives that must have gone into preparing for a day like this... And for it to go...poof!...in a manner so, oh so, heartbreaking is cruel. No, crueler.
Forget it, there's not a word in the pain vocabulary that can come close to describing how this team must be feeling. It will be very, very hard for Indian hockey to get up from this. To get up from hopelessness is hard enough. But to get up from the kind of hope and silent commitment this team had shown in preparing for the Olympics is...ouch! And for men like Ramandeep, Mukesh and Dhanraj...the disappointment of this last minute 1-1 loss to Poland, yes that's what it must feel like. A crushing loss that mocks them in the face of a wickedly smiling, evil draw! (God knows, it feels that way to passionate followers like me.)
One can well imagine what a lifetime dream coming to nought in the last minute away from a semi-final berth must feel to them. These are men who waited all their life for this chance. These are men who've come up all ways harder than anything our pampered cricketers will ever feel. These are men who won't get a second chance. And nothing must hurt them more than having come this close.
Less than 90 seconds to go for a semi-final berth. A stage from which the gold medal would have been just two matches good away. And make no mistake this team is capable of having two good days and more. They were less than a minute and half a whiff away from greatness. Less than a minute and a half away from all their lives so far had come to symbolize. A semi-final was there for the taking. Worse, the boys knew it. And had the confidence in them to take it from there.
More than anything else, the calmness this team seems to have is such a contrast from the panic one has so often seen in teams from the past. Take anyone, take Baljit Singh Dhillon. Now that's a new Pargat in the making. He is simply awesome. His speed, his ball control, his instinct for attack, his grace and his guts. Here was a player we had missed for so many years. This was a thinking man's team. A team closer knit than any of the teams we have seen in recent times. A team with...surprise, surprise...a head for big matches. (Except, this one.) Sure they had their bad days. But this was not a team like some of the teams of the past. It was more consistent than infuriating. This was a team that had worked together and grown to understand modern hockey.
And in Bhaskaran we had a coach unlike any we had seen since Cedric D'Souza. I, for one, can't feel enough for Bhaskaran. For Dhanraj. For Ramandeep. For Mukesh. These are the guys who've seen the worst of Indian hockey. And guys with their lives staked on the emergence of new face of Indian hockey. It's been a very long time since we felt a quiet sort of confidence about any team. And consistency? Boy has that been at a premium in India. But pain. That we've had no shortage of. And now this one in hockey.
The last time I wept like this was when Borg lost to McEnroe in that, yes everyone knows which one, that Wimbledon final. And that was special. Because as a child it didn't matter which country my heroes came from. They were just heroes. And when they lost they made me cry. Borg was my first childhood hero. And for a very long time the only one. So when he lost, it didn't matter he was Swedish. All that mattered was that he was my hero. And then I grew up. Which is when I became aware of things like chauvinism and nationalism. And patriotism. And had grown to feel very close to this team. In a quiet sort of way. They made me feel proud about some of the qualities they embodied as players. As people. As Indians.
This is a team with men who possess an outstanding work ethic. A team with a perfect balance of skill and discipline. A team that thinks. A team which is, and this is important, quietly confident. And in Ramandeep they had a captain who is a wonderful man. Simple, genuine, hardworking, intelligent and passionate about his love. The game. Pity, the gods weren't kind to him. To this team. If there was one team that deserved all the luck in the world, it was this one. And so what if I sound utterly unreasonable and emotional. It's my team. This is an Indian team I am proud of. Hope nobody says a word against them. God knows, it doesn't hurt anyone more than it hurts the men who were less than 90 seconds away from the only thing theirs till then stood for. God! It hurts.
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