A flurry of good performances

IT has been a long, arduous and patient march. But, at long last, the country cousins and also-rans have emerged from the giant shadow and have taken centre-stage.

IT has been a long, arduous and patient march. But, at long last, the country cousins and also-rans have emerged from the giant shadow and have taken centre-stage. Welcome, then, the boys who strike the ball with a stick rather than a bat, as well as ones that kick a ball or spike it across a net instead of driving on the front foot.

Few might have anticipated the red carpet welcome received by the victorious Indian hockey team at the Chennai international airport last fortnight on its return from Malaysia with the Asia Cup. And fewer still would have expected so many fans to spontaneously celebrate the heroics of a bunch of men who would not have been recognised, until recently, in most Indian city streets.

A lot of this has to do with the increasing attention paid by the media — both the print and electronic media — to sports that have long suffered in the giant shadow of the nation's sporting religion, cricket. The private satellite TV news channels have to constantly find stuff to keep their 24 hour cycle going and grab such offerings — as the return of the victorious hockey team — with relish. But whatever the reason, a genuine connoisseur of sport will certainly be happy with the new scenario.

Of course, Indian sport has been witnessing a flurry of good performances away from the cricket fields in recent times. For so long sporting triumph has almost been synonymous with success in cricket in this country. But not anymore. In the past, there has been much hue and cry that non-cricketing sporting events have suffered both in terms of media coverage and sponsors' focus. But the scene at the Chennai airport when the members of the triumphant hockey team arrived was reminiscent of the times when the cricket team arrives. Perhaps we are in for changing times and nothing can be better for Indian sport than a string of success in several disciplines.

Success is success, whether it is in cricket or squash or whatever. For, after all, each triumph is a pat on the practitioners just as it adds a glitter to the country's name at the international level. What the success in hockey or squash or shooting to name a few sports, should point to at a time when sports in general has become a subject of science is the willingness of our sportspersons and sports managers to adapt to the changing times and prepare themselves scientifically for major events. Take, for instance, the success of Indian squash, a sport that once did not cross the walls of any private club. An academy in Chennai, thanks to a sponsor and an amiable sports authority of the State, opened the doors to the most modern modes of training for the sport's best talent in the country even as it helped identify prospective players. An expert to provide method and direction gave that edge to the willing talents. With adequate exposure to international-level tournaments, we have today junior players such as Joshna Chinappa, Vaidehi Reddy and Saurav Ghosal who have turned India into a squash power in Asia.

There is no short cut to success. Patience marked by a gruelling effort to achieve perfection and a willingness to make sacrifices is the prime need. Ask Anjali Vedpathak, easily one of the most readily recognisable Indian shooters in recent times. The conscious efforts to rise above the mediocre and attain a level of consistency have been her hallmark and if she qualified for the Athens Olympics then it is a reward for these noble qualities. Because of performers like her and Abhinav Bindra, the fraternity of shooters has regularly been having morale boosting moments.

Equally sensational was the way ace long jumper Anju Bobby George made everyone in the country sit up by her feat of winning a medal in a world championship. And Anju too, like the hockey team, received a lot of attention from the media and support from a variety of sources, not least the Tamil Nadu government.

Before Anju's success, the Indian volleyball team was in the spotlight and so was a soccer club from Kolkata. The days when all the cameras were reserved for cricketers, when 80 per cent of sport pages newsprint, so to say, was devoted to cricketers, is gone. Times are indeed changing.

And it is time now for the once-neglected sports to take advantage of the new scenario and march ahead with greater vigour. It is precisely for this reason many would find the attitude of the Indian Hockey Federation officials towards the media rather puzzling. After a long time the sport has found a sponsor of some worth. And any sponsor would want some sort of mileage for pumping in all the money.

Yet, if there is not an immediate attitudinal change among the IHF top brass, India's premier hockey sponsor is bound to feel short-changed. Sports like cricket and tennis have more stars than you'd find if you looked up from the Marina in Chennai on a clear night. Hockey needs a few of its own. But if the IHF's attitude does not change, it may not have any unless it allows its premier players' exposure to the media.