After ACT win, India should aim high

October 30, 2016 could be called a golden day in the history of Indian hockey. For, our players beat arch rivals Pakistan 3-2 in the finals played at Kuntan, Malayasia, to clinch the Asian Champions Trophy title. After many years, India seems to have returned to our national game with glory.

Old timers would recall how great Indian hockey teams were a few decades ago. India had won 11 medals in 12 Olympics between 1920 and 1980. After that, the golden age of hockey had receded into history. With the meteoric rise of mega buck cricket, coupled with glitz and glamour – and, of course, the betting scandals and rackets – hockey the game and its players had to struggle hard to be noticed, let alone win international matches. In the face of fierce competition from other countries, which were not in the field when India had been ruling the world as hockey champions, it had been a Herculean task for Indian players to reach the top. That means the Indian hockey has to reinvent itself to stay put in our traditional game.

Now, with the ACT win, can we hope to see a comeback of our hockey? Before we set our eyes on Olympics and other global competitions, it is necessary to improve the facilities available to hockey players and the remuneration paid to them. After all, it’s the handsome payment that drives players to give their best. The secret of cricket’s success is its ability to generate billions through advertisements and TV broadcasting rights. Though it is too early to expect that kind of revenue because of limited hockey appeal to the masses, surely, efforts should be made by states and central governments to popularize the game more. For example, kabaddi is gaining wider acceptance across India and the world now.

The men’s hockey triumph coincided with another win by junior hockey players who outplayed Germany 5-2 in four-nation International Hockey Tournament in Spain. Now, they are rearing to fight Junior World Cup challenge in November in Lucknow. If the double win was icing on the cake and a perfect Diwali gift for the country from our junior and senior hockey players, it’s time for our sports authorities to prepare the teams for bigger challenges.

Former national hockey team stars Gurbux Singh and Dhanraj Pillay feel that the Indian team’s aim should be beating more accomplished teams at global level.

“We need to fight against teams like Australia, Germany and the Netherlands. Also upcoming forces like Belgium (who beat India in the quarter-final of the Rio Olympics) and Argentina need to be quelled in order to take the next step,” former India captain Pillay told IANS on Monday.

Gurbux, part of India’s 1964 Olympics gold medal winning side, said the aim should now be to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup. India last won a World Cup in 1975 in Malaysia.

The Asian Champions Trophy win could be attributed to Roeland Oltmans, the coach, who is being credited with putting up together an excellent team. Now, he set his sights on bigger global titles. Commenting on Indian hockey performance in Malaysia, Oltmans said he had seen 20 India-Pakistan matches as a coach and knew the excitement of the sub-continental encounters.

“I’m really proud that the team showed its mental strength in the last quarter to clinch victory after we conceded two goals and allowed the opposition to come back into the contest. For India’s hockey fans this is a major title win, but we have to go on and win bigger global events,” Oltmans added.

India had won the inaugural edition of Champions Trophy by defeating Pakistan in the final in 2011. Pakistan has won the title twice in 2012 and 2013.

World No 6, India was clear favourites to going into the tournament, but were without some of the key players nursing their injuries. The match lived up to the expectations of the public, however it looked that Pakistan started the match defensively in the beginning. Pakistan enjoyed some good moments but Indian defence stood tall.

India showed a lot of strong character by raising their game in key moments in most of the matches in Asian Champions Trophy 2016 and such grit should  augur well for future tournaments.

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