25th Champions Trophy
Indian Hockey Sparked But Failed To Ignite
Todays generation probably does not know those decades before when India dominated the world in the game of hockey. May be they have not heard the name of the games all time legend Dhyanchand whose brilliant stickwork and dribbling of the ball amazed the whole world. To initiate their interest, I take them to the records book that says that India has won the Olympic Gold Medal eight times and the World Cup title once.
However in the last two decades that unchallenged dominance has been gradually lost to the Europeans and Australia. Earlier the game was dependent more on ball skills stickwork, dribbling and short passes. The game was played on grass fields. Then came the astro turf , which induced extra speed, and power into the game .It then became a different set of skills that put Indian hockey in the losing trail. India did not win any major international title in the recent past till this year when they won two back to back invitations tournaments in Australia and Germany. That really built the hopes and aspirations of Indias hockey lovers and in fact of the whole nation for the 25th Champions Trophy tournament that recently concluded at Amsterdam in Netherlands. But our sporting stars have a great tradition of throwing ice cold water into the fiery hopes of our sport lovers at the right time. India finished fourth in this elite tournament of six top hockey playing nations, behind Netherlands, Australia and
Pakistan and above Argentina and Germany who only fielded their second based team.
So what happened to Indias performance!. It is the same old story- just failing to hold on to its winning performance till the last minute. India in its first game lost its 3-0 lead against Netherlands by conceding 4 goals in the last seven minutes, the last one being scored just a second before the final whistle blew. A win or even a draw against the Sydney Olympic gold medallist and ultimately the tournament champion could have changed their fate in the tournament. In the bronze medal match , they lost to Pakistan, whom they beat 7- 4 in the group league match, 4-3 conceding the fourth goal in the dying minutes. A draw would have otherwise given India the third place in the tournament.
It was a repeat story of Indias performance from the Sydney Olympics. A heart breaking 1-1 draw with Poland deprived India from going to the semifinal. India conceded the goal in the 68th minute of the match.
To be fair, one has to say that India in the recent time has greatly improved its performance in the field. In the forward line that comprises of Dhanraj Pillay, Gagan Ajit Singh, Baljit Singh and Deepak Thakur, India can boast of some of the cleverest and fastest spearheads in the world. Captain Dhanraj is considered today as the most dangerous forwards in the world. Similar things can be said about Indias defence with former captain Dilip Tirkey regaining his top form .There are some weaknesses in the midfield, but performance is improving.
So what went wrong then or where lies the problem ?
I believe it is a chronic problem with sports in India that individuals or teams are unable to sustain a consistent level of performance all throughout the match and all along a tournament. We have seen that in team sports such as cricket or football, or in individual sports such as tennis or badminton where the team or the individual plays their best one day ,but miserably fails at the next. I am not an expert who could identify and analyse the reasons for this. However it appears that there are short comings in application of tactics and strategies to a game that in todays modern age makes the difference between winning and losing . It could also be the culture and attitude towards sports in India. Another key factor that comes to ones mind is the physical fitness of the players. It seems that they do not have the physical fitness to maintain the same level of match winning energy and enthusiasm that are required to win a tournament starting from the first round. And finally one thing I do believe that is seen missing is the team spirit and the deep urge to win. Unless these issues are being looked into and addressed, we will only see sparks of sporting brilliance from India and not an ignition that lights up a fire.