A hockey victory to rejoice after gloom (Commentary)

April 12th, 2009 - 11:22 pm ICT by IANS  

By Veturi Srivatsa
New Delhi, April 12 (IANS) The Indian hockey team’s victory at Ipoh, jubilantly holding aloft the Azlan Shah Cup Sunday evening, is a cause for rejoicing as it has to been in the context of what has happened in the last three years.

First, India were humiliated at the 2006 Doha Asian Games finishing out of the medal bracket and then disaster struck them at Santiago when they failed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time in 80 years.

Exactly a year ago, the newly-appointed ad hoc committee, appointed by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) in place of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF), hurriedly assembled a team for the Sultan Azlan Shah hockey tournament and they lost the final to Argentina. In the two previous years, too, the Indian side had a podium finish, taking the third place.

India beat Malaysia 3-1 in Sunday’s final to bring home the cup after 13 years. Their victory was as impressive as the 3-0 triumph over the hosts at the league stage.

Celebrate the latest victory they should, but put it in a perspective. The opposition is not much to crow about as all the teams were of the same standard. Regulars at this tournament like Australia were absent this time. Also, the European powerhouses Germany and the Netherlands chose to stay home. New Zealand sent a young bunch to gain experience and they did well not to lose a match, losing only three of their round-robin games.

Come to think of it, India have done well in the tournament over the years, winning the trophy thrice between 1985 and 1995 before Sunday evening. The Australians won once more than India and the Pakistanis were on the podium ten times, thrice as champions, when they were among the world’s best till the turn of the millennium.

Last time the ad-hoc committee could only take credit publicly for the team’s performance as it was a mixture of players who were picked by national coach Joaqim Carvalho, who quit as he was the appointee of K.P.S Gill’s IHF regime.

This time around the selectors can take heart from the performance, though their days are numbered what with International Hockey Federation (FIH) chief Leandro Negre making it clear that the IOA must put an elected committee in place if India hopes to organise the 2010 World Cup in Delhi.

Negre was there at Ipoh after a visit to New Delhi and like his predecessor Els van Breda Vriesman of the Netherlands said that India’s stature as a hockey nation must grow if the Delhi World Cup has to be a success. For a good measure he added that India should soon raise a world champion side if the sponsors and crowds have to promote the game in the country.

One good thing about the present India squad is that it has a settled look without whispers about dumping seniors. The two Tirkeys — hockey wall Dilip and linkman Ignace - showed what experience could do in crunch situations, Sandeep Singh’s drag-flicking carried the stamp of class, and the forwards had to only force the penalty-corners for their captain to do the rest. Prabhjot, Shivendra and Arjun Halappa played attacking hockey to rattle the rival defence, and no wonder Sandeep ended up as the top scorer.

The victory will again start a debate whether India should still look for a foreign coach. Mercifully, the incumbent Indian coach Harendra Singh himself is not averse to welcoming a coach from the overseas. Spaniard Joe Brasa is all set to take over the role within a couple of weeks. One only hopes he does not come under needless scrutiny like Ric Charlesworth, who could never get along with the officialdom.

(Veturi Srivatsa, senior editor sports, can be contacted at srivatsa.v@ians.in)

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