If it’s London and it’s hockey, it is first or last

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Indian hockey hits new low after the team finishes at the bottom of the heap in London

V Krishnaswamy
London

If it’s London and its hockey, it is either first or last for the Indian hockey team. Gold in 1948 Olympics became a wooden spoon in Willesden in 1986. And now it seems the wooden spoon has become a bit of a habit, as the Indian hockey making its way back to the Olympic Games after a gap of four years, finished right at the bottom of heap – 12th after losing each and every game. So far, the Indian hockey team haven’t seemed to be striving for anything in between either.

Indian Coach Michael Nobbs was said to be so upset and angry with India’s show that he did not even turn up for the post-match press conference and sent Mohammed Riyaz to face the music instead.

The series of results has once again highlighted the malaise in Indian hockey and it is not correct to place everything at the doorstep of the players. The officialdom has to take a major share of the blame.

Controversy, court cases and mud-slinging have taken precedence over the sport. And a sense of proportion seems to have been thrown out of the window.

When the Indian team qualified for the Olympics, the impression that was given out was that this team was ready to battle the best in the world and contend for a medal – when wiser counsels said that a more modest aim of top-8 would have been a better approach. Either way, it did not work.

India had six wins in six matches at the qualifiers and when it came to bigger challenge it was six defeats in six matches.

Even as India had a terrible outing, the other Asian nations did not well either. Pakistan beat Korea 3-2 to finish seventh and Korea ended eighth.

Unfortunately, Pakistan’s reaction – judging from media reports – is symptomatic of the problems Asian hockey, or more specifically sub-continental hockey has been facing.

Pakistan hockey coach Khwaja Junaid was said to have told the team that finishing ahead of India was a consolation–hardly something that they can be proud of. They were eighth four years ago and seventh now.

He was quoted by Express Tribune as saying, “At least we return as the best-ranked Asians. Korea finished eighth, while India will be avoiding a bottom-place finish. This has proved our Asian supremacy, which we gained with a gold medal at the Asian Games two years ago.”

However, he did admit, “But there are no excuses for the huge loss (0-7) against Australia as the players totally failed against them,” he added.

As for Saturday’s match against South Africa, India lost 2-3. The defence was once again weakening as the South Africans scored through Andrew Cronje (8th), Timothy Drummond (33rd) and Lloyd Norris-Jones (64th) while Sandeep Singh converted a penalty corner in the 14th and Dharmavir Singh (66th) reduced the margin for India.

For India, it was the sixth straight loss at the Riverbank Arena. The previous lowest position that the country had occupied was eighth at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Vishwanathan Krishnaswamy is a senior sports journalist. 
letters@tehelka.com

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