1986: Chopping and changing affected form

A first person account of the 1986 hockey World Cup.

Published : Nov 23, 2018 19:07 IST

Australia won its first World Cup defeating England 2-1 at Willesden, London, in October 1986.
Australia won its first World Cup defeating England 2-1 at Willesden, London, in October 1986.

Australia won its first World Cup defeating England 2-1 at Willesden, London, in October 1986.

I did not like being part of a team that finished 12th. India was capable of a top-four finish if not being among the medals. We drew with Germany, but had lost the opening game (0-1) to Poland. For India or Pakistan, it becomes very difficult mentally to come back from a defeat at the start. Pakistan went down in the first match to Argentina and struggled to bounce back.

We lost an opportunity. We had players and talent. But the coaching staff had no clue. They did not know what they were looking for. We cannot do well in big tournaments through age-old advice from coaches to play all out for the nation’s sake. “Jaan laga ke khelo desh ke liye,”  was what our coaches repeatedly told us.

BANGALORE - 16/04/2008: Indian Hockey Team Coach Joaquim Carvalho during the National camp at SAI, Kengeri, in Bangalore on April 16, 2008. Photo: K_Murali Kumar.

In such a scenario, senior players ended up taking decisions. Chief coach Ajitpal Singh had other matters on his mind. The players saw him engage in heated arguments with the team physio (Dr. Cruz) who, we felt, was doing his best to keep the players fit. The accent was on fitness and youth. It was as if the selectors wanted ‘horses’ instead of intelligent players with experience. The Australians were making full use of Charlesworth, Irvine and Bell. None of them was young. But the team benefited from their experience and played excellent hockey. It was Australia’s first World Cup triumph. The team broke a hoodoo of the Champions Trophy winner being unable to repeat the feat at the World Cup.

India’s problems began with the Seoul Asian Games. The selectors dropped seniors for reasons best known to them. The focus was on youth and fitness. But after finishing third (behind South Korea and Pakistan), the seniors were brought back. I was among those left out for Seoul but recalled for the World Cup. We were made to run endlessly at the camp, where S. S. Grewal was in charge of fitness.

The chopping and changing of players between tournaments affected the players’ form. The shifting priorities of the selectors did not help either. Hassan Sardar was recalled by Pakistan for the London World Cup. But the team finished 11th. Pakistan then went on to be in the final in Lahore in 1990. 

The point I am trying to make is that if Pakistan can recover from an 11th place finish in London to be the finalist next time in Lahore, what is stopping India from bouncing back? At Willesden, we had great players on the coaching staff, but great players do not always make good coaches.

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