Indian hockey left to lament on the sidelines

March 10th, 2008 - 6:04 pm ICT by admin  

(Commentary)
By K.Datta
When Joaquim Carvalho took over as national coach from V. Baskaran after the 2006 Doha Asian Games, where the Indian hockey team suffered for the first time the ignominy of failing to win any medal and losing to China of all teams, he had declared that Indian hockey was not dead. To the discerning he sounded like a doctor reassuring friends and well-wishers of a sick patient entrusted to his care. To Carvalho’s credit, it must be said that he did bring the patient around, if only briefly, as the Asia Cup victory in Chennai in September showed. But when it came to the ultimate test of the Olympic qualifier at Chile, it turned out that the revival was not strong enough.

All those victory margins against teams like Russia, Mexico, Austria or Chile were false indicators. All along, Carvalho was aware that the acid test would come when his team faced Great Britain. India were beaten 2-3 in a less important league match and 0-2 in the all-important final, the game that carried the prize of a berth in the Beijing Olympics.

A nervous nation, which had gone to bed the previous night with a prayer on its lips for its team struggling in a different hemisphere, was numbed by shock when it awoke. For all its fears, it was not prepared to believe that the Indian hockey team, eight-time gold medal winners, would have to miss the Olympics for the first time since it made its famous debut at Amsterdam in 1928.

It was the hockey team that first put India on the world stage, its skill with stick and ball being seen as some sort of magic. A sport India learnt from its British rulers in the cantonments became its national game. By a quirk of fate, now a British team has knocked India out of the Olympics.

When the world’s best battle it out in the Beijing Olympics, the Indian hockey team will be left to lament on the sidelines, watching the games on television.

The legendary hockey wizard Dhyan Chand, whose birthday is the National Sports Day, and others of his generation are no longer alive to see Indian hockey suffering such a disgrace. But there still are some men around, veterans of the glorious late 1940s and 1960s, who would rather have wished themselves dead than see this decline and fall in the autumn of their lives. Many of them are too pained to talk even if they are able to summon the energy to pick up the phone.

After the return of the medal-less hockey team from Doha, many old-timers still fit enough to walk a mile or two and other hockey lovers staged a protest march on the streets of New Delhi to draw public attention to the sorry state of the game. They did draw some attention, but not enough. It will take some time for the Santiago shock to sink in.

When the inevitable blame game and post mortems begin, the dirty linen of the past will again be washed in public. Coach Carvalho, who blamed his players for lack of discipline, will come under fire. In both games against Great Britain, Indian players earned yellow cards for being too aggressive, leading to temporary suspensions. International umpires just don’t approve of players jutting their elbows in others’ chins or knocking them over. This unacceptable display of ‘aggro’ has been leniently dealt with in domestic competitions.

The administrators of the game will get their share of blame, especially one man. But will that help? He has had his way in the past. Changing coaches is the easy way out. One has lost count of the number chopped and changed. It’s an old story, too disgusting to bear repetition.

(K. Datta is a former sports editor of the Times of India. He can be contacted at datta_rahul@rediffmail.com)

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