Riotous start, tepid finish for Indian hockey

By Anand Philar, IANS,

New Delhi : A riotous start and a rather tepid finish for Indian hockey in 2010. And there were glimpses of hidden potential with a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games, followed by a bronze at the Asian Games.

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The only silver lining was the nomination of Sardara Singh and teenage sensation Rani Rampal to the International Hockey Federation’s (FIH) All-Star men’s and women’s teams, at the fag end of the year.

Earlier, both men and women players struggled to break free from the shackles of fiefdom while the authorities busied themselves with their pet pastime of politics. Caught in the crossfire was a helpless Spanish coach Jose Brasa, who eventually left the shores no wiser.

On its part, the International Hockey Federation (FIH), having needlessly dabbled in local politics, cut a sorry figure, but eventually went away with bulging moneybags following the financial success of the World Cup.

The men players raised the ante first up in the New Year when they threatened a boycott unless their dues were cleared. Chargers and counter-charges flew thick and fast, much like Taekema’s penalty corner drag-flicks. Eventually, peace was restored but the damage was done. An eighth place finish was small consolation as the Indians were very much off the pace against the top sides in the competition.

Meanwhile, the women’s team, having watched the squabbles from the sidelines, refused to be left behind. They began a fund-raising campaign to highlight their financial plight. The authorities were left red-faced, but with generous contributions from various sources flowing in, the girls were somewhat mollified, though not for long.

In mid-summer, the men’s team returned from Malaysia with the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup that they shared with South Korea after the final was washed out. The tournament lacked quality, but the triumph was trumpeted as a “morale booster”.

Incidentally, the former stormy petrel of Indian hockey, Dhanraj Pillay, accompanied the team as the manager. It was not known then that the role was a strong indication of his desire to eventually take over as the national coach, a position he has bid for after Brasa’s contract expired.

Cut to the women’s team and more trouble was brewing, with the Asia Cup and the World Cup just around the corner. Coach Maharaj Kishen Kaushik was charged with sexual harassment, the team physio Basavaraj was caught on tape in a “compromising” position with a woman. Both disgraced men were sacked.

In came two Bangalore boys, Sandeep Somesh and Khalid Modi, both relative greenhorns in coaching. The duo went with the team for the Asia Cup where India won the bronze, but had a disastrous outing in Argentina where they finished ninth in the World Cup.

The hockey caravan then rolled into New Delhi for the Commonwealth Games. The men’s team put in a remarkable display to reach the final after stirring victories against Pakistan and England. But they were outclassed in the final by Australia who won 8-0.

On their part, the women’s team blew a great chance to make it to the medal rounds when they “miscalculated” the margin of victory against South Africa in a deciding pool match and eventually finished a poor fifth.

The teams then flew to Guangzhou, China, for the Asian Games but again success eluded both. The men, despite winning the bronze medal, missed the berth for the World Cup qualifying berth while the women came fourth.

An emotional men’s assistant coach Harendra Singh put in his papers even before the bronze medal match, but on return home, said he was willing to take charge of the team, but not under anybody. Brasa left for Spain with a sinking feeling that his days with Indian hockey were over.

For all the ups and downs, Indian hockey received some kind words from Australian coach Ric Charlesworth who said: “There is lot of potential in Indian hockey. It has certainly improved, but you need to look at the system. They have to work much harder and more systematically.”

Brasa, who has had an unhappy tenure, declared that he would still love to coach Indian team, but on his terms, even as several former players, like Pillay and Jude Felix, threw their hats into the ring.

Sadly, uncertainty has become a byword in Indian hockey that today stands on the foothills of Mount Everest, attempting a climb without the requisite equipment or a guide.

(Anand Philar can be contacted at [email protected])