ONGC'S maiden triumph

The victorious ONGC team with the MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup.-M. VEDHAN

ONGC deserved all the approbation for its first ever victory in a major all-India competition. From day one, when it beat Karnataka XI 4-2, the team was on course, writes S. Thyagarajan.

For the Chennai hockey fans, the annual MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup tournament is a mela. There is everything to look forward to — from watching the best of National talent and enjoying the ambience at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium to jostling with one another to collect the lucky dip coupons for winning gift hampers and a cycle a day! Small wonder that almost everything was in place at the tournament, which is one of the most professionally run competitions in the country, last month.

There was a filament of apprehension till the ball began rolling on the not-so-well-maintained turf at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium on July 15. This stemmed from the confusion prevailing at the federation level. While the permission for the tournament came from Hockey India months ago, the New Delhi court order, upholding the appeal of the Indian Hockey Federation against its suspension by the Indian Olympic Association, introduced an element of complication. However, the problem was overcome with tact and diplomacy and the tournament got off to a perfect start.

The enhanced prize money of the tournament — Rs.4,00,000 (winner: Rs.2,50,000; runner-up: Rs.1,50,000) — was an added attraction. But the National players, away on tour of Europe, were unavailable. And a few others playing in the Nationals in Bhopal too didn't come. But a strong presence of the regular institutional teams such as IOC, ONGC, PNB, BPCL, Army and Indian Railways ensured a keen competition that culminated in ONGC registering its maiden trophy triumph. In a pulsating final, ONGC defeated the more fancied Indian Oil Corporation.

That ONGC deserved all the approbation for its first ever victory in a major all-India competition needs no elaboration. From day one, when it beat Karnataka XI 4-2, ONGC was on course. It was probably the most balanced side with a well-manned defence headed by the energetic Harpal Singh and supported by Tryon Periera.

Skipper Harpal was a picture of confidence. Whether orchestrating a move or crafting an opening, Harpal held his end with élan. He was, fittingly, named the Player of the Tournament.

Harpal was well assisted by the penalty corner striker, Diwakar Ram, and goalkeeper Dinesh Ekka. Defence was the strongest arm of the team.

Midfielder Pritender proved his worth in no uncertain terms. He played with flourish, making accurate passes to the right and left and keeping the attack in flow. The frontline profited immensely from Pritender's untiring work.

It's not hockey... Army XI players assault umpire Surya Prakash. The incident was a blot on the tournament.-PTI

The ONGC attack was a combination of fluency and finesse that was symbolised strikingly by the stick-work of Pramod Kumar. He, invariably, figured in every move. To say that Pramod was outstanding for the team is an understatement. Dharmender and Gurvinder Singh too played with admirable zeal as did Bikas Toppo, whose backhander from the top of the circle was a trophy-winning effort against the redoubtable IOC.

No team in the list contained as many internationals as did IOC. Coming into the tournament straight from its victory in the CM's Gold Cup in Bangalore, IOC was the instant favourite although Army XI started as the defending champion. Led by the versatile Deepak Thakur, who paired admirably with the seasoned Prabhjot Singh — they were helped enormously by Inderjit Chada and Roshan Minz — IOC provided many a delightful moment in the competition. Unbeaten in the league and accounting for Indian Railways in the semifinal (4-2), IOC failed at the last hurdle against a determined outfit. It was heartening to see the return of Baljit Singh at the goal after a devastating eye injury at a training camp last year. He did figure briefly and even played one full game against BPCL, relieving the pressure on the regular, Devesh Chauhan.

Indian Railways and Punjab National Bank moved up to the penultimate round thanks to some fine individual performances. For Railways, full-back Innocent Kullu came up with a few timely goals off penalty corners. Chenlgin Sana and Chengappa played creditably as did goalkeeper Suraj Kanta. PNB, which conquered the fancied BPCL in pouring rain, benefited largely from the consistent showing of its frontliner Bruno Lugan.

The HI Juniors elicited a lot of attention. The team, comprising the cream of youth talent, was one of the sides expected to enter the semifinals, but the players did not rise to the occasion. The only player of note was Yusuf Affan, whose speed and stick-work were captivating. Another player who impressed was Laith Upadyaya, the captain.

However, what will be talked about this year's tournament is, sadly, the ugly incident where the Army XI players assaulted umpire Surya Prakash. The event left a bitter taste in the mouth. Taking exception to the two green cards — one each for Army and ONGC — the players jostled the umpire and Sunil Ekka, in a fit of anger, smacked Surya Prakash on the head, causing a bleeding injury. The umpire had to be substituted even as the spectators became restive in the stands.

Thanks to the timely intervention by the Tournament Director, Muhammad Muneer, and other officials, order was restored quickly. Sunil Ekka was red-carded for the attack and suspended from taking further part in the tournament.

The incident drew critical comment from every quarter and even triggered a debate as to whether a player assaulting a helpless umpire can be booked for a criminal offence. The former Director General of Police, Jagan Seshadri, believes it is time the issue of lodging a police complaint against a player attacking the umpire is debated at some length.

The tournament otherwise was a success. The spectator response was striking. As always, the top brass of the Murugappa Group was represented daily at the venue by Mr. Arun Murugappan, Managing Director, Parry Enterprises. The Organising Secretary, Sanjay Gulwadi, left nothing to chance from start to finish and ensured that he matched the organisational efficiency of his predecessors at the MCC.

Mr. A. Vellayan, Chairman, Murugappa Group, presided and gave away the trophies in the presence of the Vice-Chairman, M. M. Murugappan.