GAME PLAN: Indian hockey still short of winning formula

Jaideep Ghosh

Ipoh, Malaysia: Indian Hockey team players celebrate a goal against Pakistan during the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia on Tuesday, April 12, 2016.  India beat Pakistan 5-1.  Photo: PTI

Ipoh, Malaysia: Indian Hockey team players celebrate a goal against Pakistan during the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia on Tuesday, April 12, 2016. India beat Pakistan 5-1.
Photo: PTI

It is the fate of Indian hockey to be an afterthought when it comes to media attention. Especially when cricket is on.

Cricket is on all the time.

No, this is not another “cricket versus others” article. We’ve have had enough of those to last us a lifetime.

But it does reflect on how hockey is played, marketed and publicised in the nation.

Hark back to the ICC T20 World Cup and the India-Pakistan match at Eden Gardens, Kolkata.

It was a tamasha to outdo all others! There were speeches, emotional renditions of improvised versions of the National Anthems, political presence and general hoo-ha.

All this for a league game!

India played Pakistan again, two days ago, in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia. Till the hooter at the end of the match, no one gave a damn.

Then it became news. Because India had hammered Pakistan 5-1.

So effectively, it wasn’t the event but the score that was news. We Indians thrive on getting the better of Pakistan in all fields, and sport is one where there are to conflicts of conscience involved.

So when the 5-1 scoreline flashed, everyone was celebrating. Not the insane dervish that we see after every India-Pakistan cricket match, but there was some applause.

Then there was the indignation. Why is it that the cricket match got so much importance, while the hockey game was practically unnoticed till the end?

Mumbai: Yo Yo Honey Singh performs during the opening night of the Vivo Indian Premier League ( IPL ) 2016 in Mumbai on Friday, April 8, 2016. Photo: PTI

Mumbai: Yo Yo Honey Singh performs during the opening night of the Vivo Indian Premier League ( IPL ) 2016 in Mumbai on Friday, April 8, 2016.
Photo: PTI

Very simple. Cricket sells. It has been sold effectively.

Selling a sport event is basically dependant on just one thing – success.

If our hockey team was winning everything, or most things, then mark my words, cricket would struggle to match up.

Look at the other examples. Boxer Vijender Singh is getting a lot of mileage nowadays, as a professional boxer, since he has won everything that was thrown at him.

Sure, as a sports correspondent or critic, you may question the quality of opposition he has faced so far, but the general public isn’t so discerning. So when he wins, he wins.

Consequently, Vijender is being lauded. He is meeting the Prime Minister, getting publicity and there is some big do around the corner, when the pugilist comes back to India.

Wouldn’t be the same if the boxer had lost everything.

Indian hockey suffers from this. Largely, they are victims of their inconsistency.

India beat Japan, by a slender margin. Then they conceded five to Australia. Then they crushed Pakistan, but immediately after, down to New Zealand.

They still have a chance of making it to the final, if they beat hosts Malaysia.

But look at the real-time stats. Japan has come with a young side, who have a lot of spirit but precious little in terms of experience.

Pakistan is a shadow of the side they were. They struggle in all their games nowadays.

Essentially, India played two teams which have teeth – Australia and New Zealand. The results were there for all to see. If they were paying any attention, of course.

Even against Malaysia, it won’t be easy. The hosts have always been formidable on home turf.

Consistency is something that is individually found wanting as well. There was once a time when Ramandeep Singh as supposed to be the player. There was Sandeep Singh before that, as were several others.

File photo of Indian hockey team captain Sardar Singh. Photo: PTI

File photo of Indian hockey team captain Sardar Singh.
Photo: PTI

Sadly, the only consistent one among them is Sardar Singh. And it sure takes more than just one player to make a team.

India is doing much better than they were a couple of years ago. After a lot of struggle and internal bickering, between Hockey India and a series of coaches.

There was the classic case of Australian Terry Walsh’s scrap with the authorities, a bewildering turn of events that left Indian hockey floundering. That was just one example.

Luckily, someone has had the inspiration of letting new man Roelant Oltmans have a longer stretch.

Possibly because no one wants to rock the boat before the Rio Olympics.

Hockey is by far the most attractive game played in India. The sheer speed, control, and stamina needed to manoeuvre a yellow ball on a blue ground are a delight to all the senses.

It’s just such a pity that India doesn’t do any better than beat just the lower echelons of teams. Would be quite something if they managed to find their feet and take on the giants.

We still live in hope.