A prestigious competition in FIH calendar

Air Marshal Nur Khan of Pakistanwith M. A. M. Ramaswamy (right), the then IHF President, in 1978. The Champions Trophy is the brain-child of Nur Khan.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY Air Marshal Nur Khan of Pakistanwith M. A. M. Ramaswamy (right), the then IHF President, in 1978. The Champions Trophy is the brain-child of Nur Khan.

The enduring saga of the Champions Trophy continues with India hosting the competition for the third time after conducting it on two earlier occasions in Chennai. By S.Thyagarajan.

Consciously crafted to inject a filament of elitism into competitive hockey, the fecundity of the Champions Trophy provides a fascinating insight into the style, system and strategies of the top rated countries. The ebb and flow, since the launch in 1978 at Lahore, symbolises a saga of sophistication in every facet of the game and the unmistakable elevation of a concept to the new plane of aesthetic delight.

As the 35th edition is set to unfold in Bhubaneswar on December 6, one cannot refrain from looking at the vicissitudes of this prestigious competition in the FIH calendar.

Germinating from a speck of thought by that stalwart visionary of Pakistan’s hockey establishment, Air Marshal Nur Khan, the Champions Trophy, over the years, has acquired the character and glamour as much as the World Cup and the Olympics.

While the International Hockey Federation (FIH) accepted the idea and enlarged the competitive value of the event, a strand of scepticism emerged with a section wondering about the financial viability of a project wherein the host unit had to bear all the expenses for the six teams.

RIC CHARLESWORTH... phenomenal deeds.-V. SUDERSHAN

Undaunted by this, Pakistan, going through its golden period at that point — after winning the World Cup in Buenos Aires — agreed to conduct the event till another host emerged and offered to fill the gap.

For three years in a row, Pakistan conducted the competition, setting new standards in organisation. The inaugural championship at Lahore in 1978 was followed by two successive events in Karachi.

HEINER DOPP of Germany... most successful captain.-

The success of the tournaments and the spectator response, not to forget the spurt in quality and content, encouraged other countries to take up the event. Confined to the top six ranked outfits, it was not easy to rotate the host countries.

Amsterdam in 1982 became the first to host, away from Pakistan. The annual competition then caught the attention of the community across the globe. But the financial strain and difficulties in getting the endorsements from sponsors, forced the FIH to accommodate host countries who were not in the elite group.

Thus Kuala Lumpur became the venue in 1993 with Malaysia qualifying as a host.

Eventful in the true sense of the epithet every championship remains etched in memory thanks to the outstanding deeds of players, many of whom have become legends in their lifetime.

One name that comes to mind is the Australian super-star, Ric Charlesworth, who led the team in its first win in 1983. What Ric achieved in subsequent years is fit enough for verses and ballads.

Pakistan’s Ishlahuddin, and the Dutch icons, Paul Litjens and Thies Kruize, immortalized themselves in the history of the sport, as did Stephan Veen (Netherlands) and Shahbaz Ahmed (Pakistan).

As for the records, nothing can be more shining than that of Australia. In 33 appearances, the Aussies ended their campaigns with the top of the podium finish no less than 13 times. In fact, they will be defending the title in Bhubaneswar.

Germany and the Netherlands follow the Aussies with nine (in 31 appearances) and eight (in 32 appearances) victories respectively. The glorious period for Germany was the hat-trick of triumphs from 1986 to 1988, under the stewardship of Heiner Dopp.

For Pakistan, which started its campaign with a flourish in 1978, the last win came in 1994 at Lahore under the leadership of Shahbaz. Interestingly, all the three trophy triumphs for Pakistan came on home soil. The lone title win for Spain was in 2004 when the team was led by Juan Escarre.

Barring a bronze in 1982, India has very little to show as a major power in its 13 appearances. The team could not even qualify for several editions for want of a rating.

However, there have been two memorable matches for India that no chronicler can afford to ignore. The first was a victory over Pakistan for the bronze in 1982 when Rajinder Singh (Jr.) struck a brilliant hat-trick.

Another memorable tie was also against Pakistan and at the same venue in 2003 when the team came back from the brink of defeat to outsmart its rival 7-4. Jurgaj Singh, Deepak Thakur and Gagan Singh played stellar-roles under the mercurial Dhanraj Pillay.

The enduring saga of the Champions Trophy continues with India hosting the competition for the third time after conducting it on two earlier occasions in Chennai.

To say that every aficionado in the country is awaiting India’s showing here is nothing but an understatement.