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Hockey alive and kicking in India
October 13, 2004
The India-Pakistan series was a resounding success. It also demolished the myth that people no longer watch hockey. India may have lost the series, but this series, comprising four matches each in Pakistan and India, proved beyond doubt that hockey still touches a big chord in every Indian heart.
Just as the series ended there was news that India got a call for the Champions Trophy. That is great news. Now the players have a lot to work for. This is a godsend opportunity for the players and coach Gerhard Rach. To be able to play the best teams in the world in a premier event is indeed an honour.
The Pakistan leg provided huge crowds across the border and when the series came to India some murmurs were heard after the opening match in Delhi, which did not attract as big a crowd as the National Stadium could have accommodated. Yet, believe me, about 8,000-10,000 people turned up on a working weekday and in the afternoon at 1.30 pm. Which means hockey is still the national sport of this country.
The smaller stadiums in centres in Punjab showed that the game is alive and kicking and there are enough supporters for it. Then when the last match was held at Hyderabad, the atmosphere was terrific - under the lights and with a decent crowd around. To add to that, India won. That is what can happen to hockey, if everything around it is right.
In the absence of quality international hockey and even the national championships, we had almost begun to believe that people no longer wanted to see hockey. The fact is there was no hockey, so how could people decide whether or not they wanted to see it.
Also for the players, many of whom seemed new names to the public, they got a chance to show their worth. With no nationals, and only the graded tournaments taking place, there was no platform for them to show their mettle. They may have some way to go, but at least the public has seen some of these.
We have been talking about Adrian D'Souza as a great goalkeeper. After the Olympics he has been able to show his class at home as well.
Dilip Tirkey has emerged as the pillar of the team. Ignace Tirkey, Vikram Pillay, Sandeep Michael and Viren Rasquinha have also shown good performances, but I will be happy to see more goals. The penalty-corners are the big hole in our plans.
Sandeep Singh is too inconsistent. Also, ball stopping during set pieces need to be worked upon. We need variations to catch the opposition off-guard. Then, to supplement that, we need our players to be alert to avoid conceding goals off counter attacks.
Above all, taking time to settle down and not going all out till the last second is going to be another area of worry for Rach. Off-the-ball running too requires improvement.
Having said that, I must also admit that the side has enough talent to improve in these areas of concern.
This will be the third successive year we will be going to the Champions Trophy and next year the event is at home. So, these two chances should be used to ensure that the Indian team is in perfect shape for the assault on the Asian Games gold medal.
The junior World Cup will be held next year and many of the players who played the series against Pakistan will be in the team. They have now got a taste of top class hockey and more is to come in Champions Trophy.
Yes, despite the series loss, Indian hockey has a lot to look forward to.