Eventful, exhilarating and enchanting

Indian players celebrate on defeating England 3-2 via the penalty shootout in the Junior World Cup in Monchengladbach, Germany. The victory brought India the bronze medal.-PTI

The Hockey India League and the launch of the Hockey World League were on top of the agenda in the year that rolled by. An analysis by S. Thyagarajan.

Any contemplation on what competitive hockey was in the year that rolled by brings on a melange of emotions. Eventful, exhilarating and enchanting in more ways than one, hockey coursed through a fascinating phase, projecting new vistas to the aficionados.

Sandwiched between the London Olympics and the hectic schedule of 2014, that includes the World Cup, Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games apart from the Hockey India League, the year focused on the World Cup qualifiers and the efficacy of new ventures that witnessed fresh alignment of powers. Amazing was the emergence of Belgium as a hockey powerhouse.

On top of the agenda were two important events — the Hockey India League, promoted by India, and the launch of the Hockey World League by the International Hockey Federation (FIH).

The Hockey India League was an ambitious project akin to the Indian Premier League and featured outstanding talent from across the world. The million-dollar venture brought a sizeable number of Indian and foreign players on view at various centres across the country. The tournament was full of excitement, largely because of the novelty of seeing a mix of Indian and foreign players in combat. Ranchi Rhinos won the competition.

Even more path breaking was the mammoth Hockey World League involving almost the entire fraternity of players. What added a degree of enchantment to the venture was its linking with the World Cup. The top six teams from the event became automatic qualifiers for the World Cup in The Hague, Netherlands.

The cluster of matches played at various centres across the world to spot the qualifiers for the semi-finals of the Hockey World League in Rotterdam and London generated enormous interest.

While there has been a noticeable vibrancy all round, India’s record during the year was deplorable. For all the tom-toming about the employment of a slew of foreign coaches, the overall show was nothing to write home about. Barring the bronze medal won by the girls in the Junior World Cup in Monchengladbach, the moments to relish were few.

The arrival of Roelant Oltmans and the sacking of India coach Michael Nobbs before the Asia Cup, the qualifying event for the World Cup, enhanced the suspense. Though India failed to make it to the World Cup directly after losing the Asia Cup final to South Korea, it earned a place in the tournament after Australia and New Zealand won the Oceania event despite making the grade from the Hockey World League.

It was a very uninspiring story for the national team in all competitions. The exaggerated claims of the coaches and manner in which the gullible media swallowed everything to project a rosy picture before each tournament were despicable.

Barring Sardar Singh, there was not a single player from India who could be compared with any European or Australian player. The penalty corner specialists, Rupinderpal Singh and B. Raghunath, failed to deliver at important moments.

Hit by injuries almost throughout the year, India failed to field an effective frontline in any competition. Overall, it was a disappointing year, minus some flashes here and there.

From among Indian women, striker Rani Rampal sparkled.

The poignant moment of the year was when the star player, Teun de Nooijer, bid adieu to the sport. Inarguably the finest and most complete player for over a decade, Nooijer has left his imprint on the sport that cannot be easily matched for years to come. His achievements and accomplishments have already made him an icon in the pantheon of Dutch hockey. Equally significant was the retirement of the German star, Natascha Keller.

A heart-warming development was the naming of Rani Rampal as the Junior Player of the Year. But the overwhelming support received by Jamie Dwyer of Australia and Luciana Aymar of Argentina, who won the FIH Woman Player of the Year award for the eighth time, only underscored their extraordinary competence.

On the domestic front, everything was in a state of flux, with no end in sight to the standoff between Hockey India and the Indian Hockey Federation. Even the Apex court had expressed its anguish over the harm that the confrontation between the two factions had caused to the sport. The end of the year for India was anything but comforting, what with the junior men’s team, prepared diligently for months, slipping to the 10th place in the 16-team World Cup in New Delhi.

It’s now back to the drawing board. The administrators should be made to realise that they have let the sport and its millions of followers down. A new chapter needs to be written, as 2014 unfolds. Indian hockey has a stupendous task ahead.

Decent ratings in the World Cup and Commonwealth Games apart from a gold medal in the Asian Games should be the goal. It remains to be seen if the new coach, Terry Walsh, with the help of Baskaran and the High Performance coach, Oltmans, can perform any miracles!