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A small step forward for Indian hockey (Comment)

Par for the course is how one can best describe India’s final position in the 7-8 bracket at the 12th men’s Hockey World Cup. Ultimately, the fracas over a denied goal and consequent victory against South Africa last night did not impact India’s standings in the pool, although Pakistan would have avoided playing for the 11-12 slots.

Yet again, the Indians suffered due to some shockingly poor supervision by the on-field umpires who brought disgrace to their fraternity and the sport by allowing a referral for a penalty corner by South Africa after India scored a goal on the counter-attack. The Indian goal was disallowed and the Proteas converted the penalty corner that was awarded following the referral!

It was akin to travelling back in time and the umpiring decisions were certainly unprecedented and ridiculous. At the end of it all, the FIH had egg on its face and more questions than answers on the referral system that needs to be refined.

Thus, the Indians came away with a draw instead of a win. Not that a victory would have made a huge difference to India’s fortunes as in any case, they were out of the top six by the time they took the field against South Africa.

Coach Jose Brasa can justifiably feel relieved, if not happy, that he dragged the team out of the morass and gave it some respectability after the nonsensical events in the past couple of years as also in the recent weeks, all but sounded the death knell for the game in India.

A seventh or eighth place finish, on the face of it, might appear an ‘improvement’ as compared to the ninth, 10th and 11th in the three previous editions, but the fact remains that Indian hockey has some way to go to even get among the top six. It is a task that is not beyond it provided of course the Augean stables are cleaned. Only, at the moment, there is no Hercules in sight.

On the pitch, it is clearly evident that the majority of the current Indian players have outlived their utility. Even a Charlesworth or an Oltmans or a Hendricks will not be any more successful than Brasa with the Indian side in its present state. Rather, India would be better off with a foreign coach attached to a sub-junior bunch that he can develop over a four or eight-year period. This has been said before, but bears repetition.

Against South Africa, for instance, the senior players did not show much of leadership and appeared far too anxious. Haste led to mistakes and barring a few flashes of brilliance, the team played no better than it had in the previous games. The umpiring blunders added to India’s misery.

It was imperative that India at least qualified for the Champions Trophy as it would have provided an opportunity to measure themselves against the best in world hockey. As Brasa rightly pointed out, it is of more relevance to constantly play against the top teams rather than undertaking inconsequential tours to say Canada or Argentina or Malaysia. Rather, Europe is the place to play.

But then, Indian hockey administrators are not known for such meticulous planning and vision. There is a lot of hard work ahead for Indian hockey and of more importance is to be patient, for success cannot be achieved overnight. It is debatable whether country’s administrators are willing for the long haul, for the journey has only just begun.

(Anand Philar can be contacted at anandphilar@gmail.com)

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