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Year to forget for Indian hockey
Y Sarangi | December 26, 2005 15:39 IST
Year 2005, which coincided with the birth centenary of the legendary hockey player Dhyan Chand, ironically turned out to be the most disappointing year for the national sport.
India may have showed the world that a novel concept like Premier Hockey League could fetch popularity to the game but they hardly did any justice to their potential in terms of performance through the year.
Also read: 'You cannot win if you are so inconsistent'
It may sound starkly unpleasant but the fact cannot be denied that this year India's men's team had poor finishes in all the three international tournaments they participated in -- 5th in seven-nation Azlan Shah tournament in Malaysia in May, 7th in eight-nation Rabo tournament in Holland in August and 6th in six-nation Champions Trophy played in Chennai in December.
And this, despite several desperate efforts to put the team on winning tracks.
After the sacking of German coach Gerhard Rach, who termed the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) a "madhouse," the hockey body took a good deal of time in appointing a coach -- Rajinder Singh Jr, who led Punjab and Sindh Bank to title victory in the Nationals.
But the step hardly made a difference to the performance graph of the Indian team.
Any noteworthy result kept eluding India even as the IHF did not spare "non-performing" players and for the first time appointed a trained physio Ravi Kanakamedala.
The biggest debacle came India's way on home turf as they finished with a wooden spoon in the elite Champions Trophy and thereby missed out a berth in the tournament next year.
As Olympic champions Australia went on to win the most important tournament of the year, the home team's performance was patchy with a string of poor shows and occasional sparks.
On the positive side, youngsters like forward V Raja, midfielder V S Vinay, drag-flicker Sandeep Singh and goalkeepers Adrian D' Souza and Bharat Chetri caught attention with their individual brilliance.
In the under-21 World Cup in Holland, defending champions India were unlucky to return without a medal. India, who topped the tables in league stages, lost to Australia 0-2 in the semifinals. Later, their battle for the third place against Spain was disheartening as a controversial decision in favour of the Spaniards in the dying moments ultimately cost India the bronze.
The introduction of PHL at Hyderabad was the most significant event this year. The novel tournament -- with concepts like foreign players, four quarters and time-outs -- triggered a rise in the popularity of the national sport.
On the other hand, birth centenary celebration of the Major Dhyan Chand (on August 29) and revival of the Nationals after a gap of four years were the other bright spots for the sport.
The background of men's hockey did not remain stain-free as a senior vice president of IHF, Narinder Batra moved court against the "autocratic" style of functioning of the hockey body's president KPS Gill and secretary K Jothikumaran. The episode remains unfinished as the matter is pending in the Delhi High Court.
The other shameful chapter was the on-field offensive conduct of senior players like Gagan Ajit Singh and Kanwalpreet Singh against rival players. The IHF handed out bans to both, only to revoke those later.
Again, IHF got embroiled in an controversy despite conducting the Champions Trophy well. The change of fixtures on the last minute, to make it convenient for the national broadcasters Doordarshan, drew a lot of criticism from the European countries who described it as unprecedented.
The Indian women, on the other hand, performed well this year, winning a title and emerging runners-up on home pitch.
The eves claimed the four-nation championship in Singapore in August, beating formidable South Korea in the final while in Delhi they went down fighting to powerhouse Australia at the five-nation Indira Gandhi tournament in October.
Away from the limelight, the women hockey players who earned laurels for the country were right winger Saba Anjum, centre forward Jasjit Kaur, goal-keeper Helen Mary, forward Adlin Kerketta, inside forward Samggai Chanu and left half Sumrai Tete.
However, it was not success throughout as they had a forgettable showing in six-nation tournament in Korea in June.
Besides, at the Junior World Cup for girls in Chile, India only managed a 12th spot among 16 teams in Septemeber.
Coming back to the men's game, as India braces up for the second edition of the high-profile tech-savvy PHL, the court's decision on IHF and India's campaign for the World Cup next year will be the two important events which might be decisive as regards the future of the sport in the country.