1998 UTRECHT (May 20-June 1)

SANDEEP SAXENA

By DHANRAJ PILLAY

(Winner: Netherlands; Runner-up: Spain; Third place: Australia. India: 9th)

Utrecht was a bitter experience for us, and, personally, for me. Our chief coach Baskaran had decided that I did not fit into his plans. I was the captain, yet was not played in the first match. My concentration levels fell over a period of time as I hardly played for five or ten minutes in matches.

I was directed to go for fitness tests over 100m, 60m. Dr. Cruz was the team doctor. I did well in the tests and was fit, but for the coach I was one of the injured. He had created an impression that I had been included despite his preference for the younger forward, Rajeev Mishra. He too suffered from a knee problem.

On the negative side was the defeat against Canada. The Canadians knew we had spoilt their chances of qualification for the 1994 Atlanta Olympics. So after beating India they came towards the bench and started abusing me. I kept quiet because we had lost and finished ninth in the tournament, but others like Anil Aldrin got agitated and asked the Canadians to leave the Indian captain alone.

I did not go to watch any of the other matches in the tournament. I remained in my room. Our players did not have quality shoes, our jerseys were not up to the mark. I talked with Dita (equipment manufacturer) to sponsor the team kit. On arriving in Utrecht, food was a problem. We stayed far away from the venue, so we had contracted an Indian supplier to provide us food. After changing the contractor, the quality of food improved. When it came to settling payments, our manager paid the contractor on the last day at the airport. Ajitpal Singh was our manager.

Playing in front of the Dutch fans is a different experience. People, irrespective of their age, understand hockey. I have enjoyed playing against the Dutch since 1990. Holland won here because of its experienced players and the crowd support.

The Dutch team was packed with experienced hands and their aim was to create penalty corners. If unable to score in the ‘D’, then the idea was to win a penalty corner and let Lomans, one of the world’s best drag flickers then, do the rest. Veen was in top form and so was Nooijer.

(As told to Nandakumar Marar)