Sunday, January 2, 2011

Medals, controversies rule the roost in Indian hockey

New Delhi:  The year 2010 started with a whimper for Indian hockey and somewhat ended on a lukewarm note with the national men's team managing only a silver and a bronze in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games respectively.

Inspite of the medals in the two mega-events, 2010 witnessed a rather disappointing finish for Indian hockey as the men's team managed only a third-place finish in the Guangzhou Asian Games -- a tournament which they were banking on heavily to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics.

Star defender Sardara Singh and teenage sensation Rani Rampal's inclusion in the International Hockey Federation's (FIH) All-Star men's and women's teams at the end of 2010 was the only significant high for Indian hockey in the year, which can be termed as a mixed bag affair.

Controversies also ruled the roost in the year 2010 -- be it the ongoing power struggle within the game's administrators, players dispute on salaries or the sexual harassment charges against erstwhile women's team coach M K Kaushik.

Contrary to the satisfactory end, 2010 started on a sorry note for Indian hockey as the players went on a revolt against the administration in demand over their outstanding dues with barely little time left for the World Cup on home shores.

After days of uncertainty, the matter was finally resolved at the mediation of Sahara India Pariwar, the official sponsor of the team. But by then the damage was already inflicted and it was clearly evident in the team's disappointing eighth-place finish in the World Cup.

After the World Cup debacle, the Indian men's team went to Malaysia in mid-summer to take part in the Azlan Shah Cup. India did enough to give a fillip to their demoralising confidence by sharing the trophy with South Korea after the title clash was washed out, but the tournament lacked quality competition.

But then came the most shameful episode in the history of the national game when a women's team player accused coach M K Kaushik of sexual harassment. If that was not enough, team physio Basavaraj was also caught on camera in a "compromising" position with a prostitute during a tour of China.

Stunned by the disgraceful episode just before the women's Asia Cup and World Cup, in no time the national federation jumped into action and sacked both the accused men and ordered an inquiry against the duo to somewhat salvage the situation.

In Kaushik's place, Hockey India roped in inexperienced Sandeep Somesh as a stop-gap arrangement and under his guidance the eves won a bronze in the inaugural Asia Cup in Busan, South Korea.

But after the high came low when the eves had a disastrous outing in the World Cup in Argentina where they finished a lowly ninth.

However, with the start of the Commonwealth Games in the Capital, all the lows of Indian hockey were soon forgotten as the nation eagerly looked upon the men's as well as the women's team to restore the eight-time Olympic champions lost pride.

Expectedly, the men's team did not disappoint the countrymen and showed glimpses of their brilliance to storm into the final of the Delhi Games, comprehensively beating arch-rivals Pakistan and England in the preliminary stages.

But when it mattered most they floundered, as world champions Australia taught India, past masters of the game, a hockey lesson thrashing them 8-0 in the summit clash.

Even though Australia were the deserving gold medal winners in the Commonwealth Games men's hockey competition, India created history when they broke their medal jinx in the quadrennial event with the second-place finish.

Unlike their male counterparts, the Indian eves' story in the Delhi Games can be termed as a man-made disaster as one miscalculation spoiled their party.

In with a great chance to enter the medal round, the women's team miscalculated the margin of victory against South Africa in their last pool match -- thanks to a misunderstanding between coach Somesh and manager Rupa Saini -- to miss out on a place in the semifinals and eventually finish a disappointing fifth.

High on their CWG performance, the Indian men's team went into the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China not only eyeing the gold but also an automatic place in the 2012 London Olympics. Expectedly, the team impressed in the group stages before a resurgent Malaysia stunned them in the semifinals.

Even though Rajpal Singh and his men returned with the bronze medal from Guangzhou, it was not enough to bring back smiles on the faces of hockey fans back home, as it was a double shock when the eves also finished a poor fourth.

The bronze in the Asian Games also did not come without much drama as national coach Harendra Singh resigned from his post after the Malaysia match, only to return back home and say that he was willing to take back his papers provided he is given a full authority of the team.

The Guangzhou Asian Games also drew curtains on chief coach Jose Brasa's tumultuous association with India as the poor Spaniard's contract was not renewed after the event.

With no international tournament in the pipeline, presently, both the men's and women's team are going through a transition phase and the national federation is working hard to find replacements for both Brasa and Somesh.

Sensing the opportunity, already 10 candidates from the country have shown their interest in taking up Brasa's position with the most notable among them are former India captain Dhanraj Pillay, Harendra, Clawrence Lobo and Jude Felix.

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