Hockey brings back many memories for me.
One of them is of a match played in the National Stadium, Delhi, some thirty five years or so ago – between India and Pakistan, or maybe it was India vs a composite rest-of-world or Asia team, I am not sure. But the opposing team was good and there were some great Pak players in that team. And a spectator next to me exlaiming ‘Mukhbain Se Panga?’, when a Pak forward was foiled by Mukhbain Singh, India hockey full back.
Back in those times, India had some great players. One of the all time greats was Ajit Pal Singh – Indian captain and centre half (who could play at any position… there were times when he used to join the forward attack)… He was a wall. Cool as cucumber. He would stop opposing attacks most non-nonchalantly, and his passes were sheer poetry. Then there was Ashok Kumar, right out. What a dribbler. The son of the greatest-hockey-player-of-all-time Dhyan Chand, Ashok Kumar was a magician with the hockey wand. His run down the flank, weaving through opposing players, and speeding on to the opposite goal – anyone who has seen that, has seen hockey. Zafar Iqbal in Left out had such a terrific reverse flick, as strong as one might see from a Right out. Aslam Sher Khan on the field – what a presence! Later came, Shahid – another magician with the hockey stick.
Dhanraj Pillay perhaps is one player of more recent times, who brought some of that old Indian hockey magic back…
So where has the hockey magic gone now? Whatever happened to India hockey after 1975?
For one, it is probably the change of playing surface . The western world literally changed the ground beneath our feet. Field hockey became Artificial Grass hockey. or astro turf hockey. Then, came the change in rules. Pushes became hit ins. “Sticks” (raising the stick above shoulder height when taking a hit) was made legal. The wrist-mastery of Indians was made irrelevant by these two changes. And overall, the game became penalty-corner hockey instead of field-hockey.
One of my friends, Captain R Vijay Kumar (a navy man) wrote in an email:
“In ’75 I had witnessed Indan Hockey team play the world/Asia XI at National Stadium. That was played in natural grass and having just wrested the world cup , India went about decimating the opponents in a clinical manner. They dazzled in stick work and field play and were a treat to watch. Their style , rules and game plan suited them very much. The likes of Ashok Kumar , Govinda , MP Ganesh Harcharan and Ajit Pal Singh to name a few made us proud.
Since ’75 , hockey changed quiet a lot. Ground rules changed , games were being conducted on artificial grass and accordingly the game style changed. India and Pak were reluctant to change and stuck to their traditional style of hockey. Fast paced and power hockey replaced the old. Europeans adapted the new style with ease, their physic and body strength contributing to it. India refused to budge, and herein started her slide.
This world cup matches that I witnessed were the first after many years. And what did I witness – Same stick work , short passes , excessive dribbling while their opponents regularly in matter of seconds with long scoops and passes. Our players do hard work of dribbling and dribbling from own 25 yards to opponent’s 25 , only to be dispossed by a burly defender and scooped back to top of our ” D ” , then a penalty corner through foul (due dribbling) and GOAL. Match after match , contrasting styles were evident. Result 2-5 to Oz , 2-5 to Spain , 2-3 to UK;
After these dismal results, that too with home crowd hooting for you , Hockey analysts have the audacity to say India’s stickwork and mid field control was superb .” UNQUOTE
So, is there any remedy?
Here’s a suggestion. A change in rule. Let not penalty-corners rule the game. Let a field goal have more weight than a penalty-corner goal. How about granting 1.5 for a field goal (and penalty stroke) as against 1 for a penalty-corner goal.
Tags: Hockey. World Cup Hockey