Santiago, March 10
Faced with a do-or-die battle, India’s Olympic dream came down crashing as Barry Middleton (4th minute) and Richard Mantell (10th) scored for Britain in the nerve-wracking final at the Prince of Wales Country Club. With this win, England qualified for the Beijing Olympics.
Eight times gold medallist India thus failed to make it to the Olympics for the first time since their debut in 1928, adding an ignominious chapter to the game’s history which has seen more lows than highs in recent times.
The setback prompted coach Joaquim Carvalho to step down along with his support staff.
While Britain celebrated to the accompaniment of the song “We are the Champions”, the Indian players, heads bowed and shoulders slumped, could only watch the jubilant scenes of a team that played smarter, if not better, hockey.
Britain showed a lot of steel in dealing with the massive pressure they were subjected to by the Indian forwards. The difference was that Britain, who had beaten India 3-2 in the league, capitalised on the two early chances that came their way, while the Indians did not.
India could never really settle down and the two yellow cards to their key players, midfielder Sardara Singh and forward Prabhjot Singh, filled their cup of woes.
India also blew five penalty corners with neither Ramachandra Raghunath, with his drag-flicks, nor Dilip Tirkey, with his direct hits, able to convert. In fact, their set-piece drill in the second-half was rather pathetic, as the ball was not even stopped cleanly.
Britain’s first-half tactics were fairly obvious and that was to seize the early initiative. Two goals within the first 10 minutes put them firmly in front while pushing India on the back foot.
While Britain’s performance was slick and sure, the Indians struggled to get going. The two teams were a study in contrast with Britain sticking to basics of close marking, quick release and positional play.
In contrast, India seemed to run out of ideas and there was predictability in their attacks with the long balls to the wings in much use.
Middleton scrambled the ball in from a Ashley Jackson pass with the Indian defence caught square in the very fourth minute and then Richard Mantell drag-flicked a 10th minute penalty corner to put Britain on top.
India did knit together a few moves, but at the finish it was the same old tale of wrong passes and at times, too much of individual play.
With time ticking by, India made desperate attempts force a penalty corner and finally succeeded in the 31st minute. But Raghunath failed to beat goal keeper Alistair McGregor. A little earlier, Sardara was sent out with two green cards in the 26th minute and his absence meant another round of reshuffling that affected the Indian team balance.
In between the Indian attacks, Britain squeezed a couple of more raids and nearly scored twice with Jackson and then Tindall shooting wide of target.
On resumption, the Indians attacked with some urgency but they suffered a setback when Prabhjot was sent out with a yellow card suspension for deliberate stick-check. Yet again, it limited India’s options while leaving a huge hole in the frontline.
India’s persistence fetched them their second penalty corner in the 47th minute, but goalkeeper McGregor easily blocked Dilip Tirkey’s direct hit.
Seven minutes later, India forced three penalty corners in quick succession, but twice Ignace Tirkey and then Shivendra Singh failed to stop the ball. Worse still, Ignace limped off the field after being struck on the knee by the British charger.
At the other end, goalkeeper Baljit Singh kept India in the game with some good saves as Britain wasted three penalty corners.
Even as the Indians grew in desperation, Britain kept their composure to survive the vital final moments of a match that barely rose to expectations in terms of quality, though did not lack intensity and passion. — PTI
Indian Horror Confederation
Chandigarh, March 10
Perturbed over the developments in Indian hockey, the International Hockey Federation (FIH), the parent body controlling the sport the world over, made a desperate intervention by sending its development committee members to diagnose the ailments inflicting the game here.
In fact, the International Olympic Committee had also been insisting that all help should be extended to India by the FIH to ensure its presence in the hockey event of the summer Olympics as this “stick and ball game has become synonymous with the biggest democracy of the world.”
Supported by the IOC, the FIH convened its executive board meeting in New Delhi some months ago to send a message that they cared for India.
The FIH committee suggested remedies, including bringing the 2010 World Cup to India, besides bringing one of the top coaches, Dr Richard Charlesworth of Australia, to initiate the recovery or revival mode. Both the FIH and the Sports Authority of India agreed to pool their resources for facilitating Charlesworth’s assignment. Only a few months back, he made Chandigarh his home and drew plans for the future. Visibly upset over FIH overtures and constant criticism in the media, the Indian Hockey Federation did not take these initiatives well. Decline continued.
In fact, the Santiago debacle is the culmination of the neglect of our once national sport had been getting both from the government as well as the administrators of hockey for a long time. To be honest, India would have been out of Olympic hockey in 1992 but for Malaysia that saved them from blushes then. In Auckland, in the first-ever Olympic qualifier India played, it would have tripped there.
Had Malaysia not beaten Belgium 5-3 in its last league encounter in the Auckland Olympic qualifier in 1991, India would have missed the bus to the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.
India, eight time Olympic champions, however, failed to draw a lesson from the Auckland tournament. In fact warning bells started ringing for this once super power in hockey as early as the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games when it failed to make the semi-final round for the first time in the history of Olympic hockey.
It touched its nadir in the 1986 World Cup in London where the 1975 edition champion Indian team took the wooden spoon. India could never recover.
Without learning a lesson from a series of debacles that rocked Indian hockey in the 80s and 90s, the federation managing the affairs of the game in the country continued to function in an arbitrary manner dismissing all criticism heaped at it as “biased and baseless”.
Arrogance coupled with indifference accelerated the downward decline and in the last Doha Asian Games, India suffered yet another reverse when it failed for the first time since 1952 to make the semi-final round.
It is cricket that has been drawing attention from every possible source. Not many politicians or bureaucrats would even accept an invite to watch a game of hockey. Rather they would make a beeline to get complimentary passes for watching a cricket game. This neglect and indifference has done hockey in.
Where do we go from here is a million-rupee question that may be agitating the minds of ardent fans of this game?