Light at the end of the tunnel

Published : Dec 29, 2001 00:00 IST


THERE were times when many believed that the best days of Indian hockey had long gone and that it would take a herculean effort from the administrators to bring back the glory days.

Both the Indian senior & junior teams lacked the ingredients needed for success at the highest level focus and killer instinct. The different training methods adopted by different coaches also resulted in confusion. Moreover, the 2000 Sydney Olympics debacle, followed by an unimpressive performance in the World Cup qualifiers, did little to dispel the belief. More than anything, the team was labelled as one which had individual brilliance in abundance but lacked co-ordination, strategy and execution. Nostalgia became the only salve for the growing frustration.

On October 21, 2001, Indian hockey entered a crucial phase when the junior team won the World Cup at Hobart in Australia trouncing Argentina 6-1 in the final. It fulfilled a long cherished dream nurtured from 1979, when the junior event was launched by Roger Danet with the objective of promoting young talent.

From bagging a gold in the 1980 Moscow Olympics to the junior World Cup triumph in 2001, it has been one long wait for hockey enthusiasts. Though, India had claimed the gold in the 1998 Asian Games at Bangkok, the junior World Cup was the first crown at the world level since the 1980 Olympics.

Edged out by Australia (1-2) in the final in the last edition (1997) at Milton Keynes (England), failing to qualify for the 1989 and 1993 events, and finishing fifth in 1979, '82 and '85, the Indian juniors' maiden title victory tasted like nectar to the aficionados of India's national sport. This Indian team would be remembered more for the manner in which it achieved the win. Tagged as a choker overseas, its convincing victory in the summit clash only disproved the theory.

The way India defeated four-time champion Germany in the semifinals proved that the team did peak at the right time. Jugraj Singh, who is fast developing into a drag flick expert, captain Gagan Ajit Singh, Prabhjot Singh, the highest goal-scorer Deepak Thakur, Inderjit Singh, Arjun Halappa and Kanwalpreet Singh among others showed exemplary fortitude and presence of mind to fashion this epoch-making win.

With the hunger for success and the desire to excel, the team rose to the occasion. It was a day when youth with all its pluck and guts stood tall. Conviction in their abilities, the boys had in plenty. In the end, all was made possible by the attacking brand of hockey that they dished out.

The journey was, however, not smooth for India. Suffering a defeat against Australia, it was in a must-win situation against a strong Dutch outfit. Its progress into the last four also hinged on Argentina beating Australia. Fortune favours the brave, they say. India went on to beat The Netherlands and Argentina eventually beat Australia. Coach Rajinder Singh also deserves special praise for the way he handled the boys.

The obvious question arises. How to tap the existing talent? Says V. Bhaskaran, who was the coach of the 1997 junior team, "This is the right time for the administrators to groom the under-14 and under-16 boys" to make hockey a grassroot-strong sport.

The Sportstar acknowledges the memorable win and presents the Indian team with the Young Achievers Award.

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