Hertzberger is the Dutch hero

Jeroen Hertzberger with the Player of the Tournament trophy.-PICS: AKHILESH KUMAR

There never was any doubt about the supremacy of the Netherlands. Despite the absence of its top players, Taeke Taekema and Teun de Nooijer, the Dutch meant business and demonstrated the quality of their bench strength in a befitting manner, writes Vijay Lokapally.

When Jeroen Hertzberger said he would love to return to India, the Dutch was honest in his appreciation of the affection that the people of Chandigarh showered on him. As the Player of the Tournament, Hertzberger would carry home some fond memories of the Punjab Gold Cup hockey tournament, but importantly he would cherish the time he spent in Chandigarh.

“The people here are mad about hockey. They love hockey and it was a pleasure to perform in front of such a huge audience,” said the 23-year-old player from Rotterdam. Not used to playing in front of a huge crowd, Hertzberger was quick to adapt, and his swift and skilful movements on the turf left a lasting impression on the competition and eventually helped the Netherlands win the title.

There never was any doubt about the supremacy of the Netherlands. Despite the absence of Taeke Taekema and Teun de Nooijer, the Dutch meant business and demonstrated the quality of their bench strength in a befitting manner. The two veteran players left on the eve of the first match due to tournament rules, which allowed a team to field only 18 players. The Dutch had brought 20 and in a decision that left the hockey lovers disappointed, Taekema and Nooijer were sent home.

The Dutch coach, Michel van den Heuvel, was clear in his mission. The Gold Cup was a platform for the team to prepare for the 2010 World Cup. “We want to experiment and that’s why we have brought a young side,” said Heuvel. This was in contrast to what the Indians had in mind.

The victorious Netherlands team with the Punjab Gold Cup.-

“We have to grab every chance

The motivation for the Indian team to do well came from a statement made by the National selector Aslam Sher Khan. His crass message to the seniors to “perform or perish” brought the best out of the team in a sterling contest against the Netherlands that ended in a 4-4 draw. After the match, Harendra broke down at the press conference and slammed Aslam Sher Khan for his “irresponsible” views at the beginning of the tournament.

“Indian hockey can do without such people,” thundered Harendra even as Dilip Tirkey and Prabhjot Singh, two of the three seniors who the National selector wanted to “perform or perish”, managed to give a decent account of themselves. Deepak Thakur suffered an injury and was confined to the bench after the first match.

There was nothing exceptional about India’s showing in the tournament. Some of the shortcomings remained even though Harendra continued to back his players, saying they would improve with time. Poor conversion rate of penalty corners did not speak well for the team but there was solace in the fact that India did not concede many penalty corner goals either. The star performer for India was goalkeeper Baljit Singh. “He is a brave man,” said former India goalkeeper Romeo James. To Baljit’s credit, he was unflinching and brought off some remarkable saves against teams like the Netherlands and Germany. Apart from Baljit, two players, Tushar Khandker and Vikram Pillay, were consistent and looked international class. Khandker caught the eye with his speed and splendid trapping on the run while Pillay played his heart out in the midfield. Shivendra Singh shone in patches.

New Zealand was not at its

“We need more and more tournaments like this,” said Balbir Singh (Sr), who battled ill-health to come to the venue and watch a few matches. The triple gold medal winning Olympian emphasised, “I will not accept that we don’t have talent. It is just that we have to identify the talented youngsters and give them the facilities to develop their game. I am sure this tournament would have made a contribution in boosting Indian hockey.”

Compiled by B.G.Joshi-

From India’s point of view, the Punjab Gold Cup was an encouraging step. That the players were willing to toil was never in doubt but what stood out was the collective effort that marked their campaign. The team knew its limitations but worked hard to ensure that it matched the opposition. “Of course we have a long way to go but you must appreciate the spirit the players showed,” said Harendra. It was this spirit that stood out in India’s performance.

A kid carrying a placard that stated “I want to be a hockey star” drove home the game’s huge popularity in this part of the country. The spectator-response was one of the highlights of the tournament. Hundreds of hockey lovers thronged the Sector 42 Stadium, a compact theatre for families to come and enjoy some thrilling stuff. “A bit noisy but wonderful,” said Hertzberger of the sporting audience.

Hertzberger and his coach were all praise for the venue and the people. “It is a great venue for hockey,” noted Heuvel. “I would love to come back for the people here,” Hertzberger said at the top of his voice as a sea of hockey fans bombarded him with requests for autographs and photographs.

It was a victory for hockey — both on and off the field.

* * * ’WE NEED DIRECTION’

This is a different job for Pargat Singh (in pic). His on-field exploits have been well documented, but not many know of his organising skills. Few would have known the composed manner in which the former India star went about organising the Punjab Gold Cup. He had a team of dedicated workers of whom the former international Sukhvi Singh Grewal was his most trusted lieutenant. “This can only happen if you have a good team and I am glad to have a wonderful bunch,” said a beaming Pargat at the end of the tournament. It was an incident-free tournament and attracted thousands of spectators even on windy and cold evenings. “People like to watch hockey. If you give the fans good facilities and good fare, I am sure the game can regain its popularity all over the country,” observed Pargat.

Having played hockey at the highest level with distinction, Pargat, acknowledged as one of the greats of the game, felt this was his humble contribution to the hockey fraternity. “I wanted the tournament to happen for the sake of the hundreds of young trainees we have in Punjab. I wanted them to come and watch some of the big stars from close and try and learn. I was motivated when I saw some of the greats of the game and I am sure many of these kids would now take hockey more seriously.”

For Pargat, organising the tournament was a big challenge but he came out triumphant off the field too. Files moved swiftly and help came in all forms as Pargat got down to business once the Punjab government gave the green signal for the conduct of the tournament. “Hockey cannot be restricted to just one state. I am sure we have pockets in other parts of the country where we can look for talent. It is a matter of having the will to do it and we have many former players wanting to dedicate themselves to this job,” said Pargat.

As Director of the Punjab Sports Department, Pargat has taken the game to small sectors in the state. Thanks to his experience, Pargat, who managed to obtain a hike in funds from the state government, introduced several schemes to popularise hockey. “We have been conducting a league for juniors in Amritsar, Ludhiana and Jalandhar and the response has been very encouraging. If this healthy trend continues, I am confident of getting some top quality players soon.”

Pargat has kind words for those who have been engaged in putting India back on the world hockey map. “If the majority is convinced that we need a foreign coach, then let it be so, but then we need to move fast. There is no point criticising our players without giving them proper exposure. Modern hockey involves scientific training and we have to look seriously in this department. The forces would need to work in one direction and once that happens there is no reason why India can’t do well at the international stage. We have the talent but need direction.”