Quite engrossing

The triumphant Punjab and Sind Bank team with the Rangaswamy Cup.-PTI

The maze of matches could have led to several snags, but nothing major occurred. That everybody finally left more than satisfied is in itself an indication of how successful the 62nd Nationals turned out to be, writes S. Thyagarajan.

A national is a national is a national. Its charm is unfathomable. The National Hockey Championship in Jalandhar last fortnight perhaps underscored the importance of a competition that was practically re-launched — thanks to the initiative of Dainik Bhaskar and Tracer Shoes headed by Nitin Kohli. With the support personnel from the Punjab Hockey Association, led by Hari. S. Dhillon, the championship was organised with �clat. The lessons were many for the federation, the units and the players. Clearly, everyone must offer something to make the event a vibrant instrument for the development of a large base.

Sandwiched between important competitions, the Nationals had to be hurried through in a complex format in five centres — four in Punjab and one in New Delhi.

Admittedly, it was a gigantic task for the Tournament Director Kukoo Walia. The maze of matches could have led to several snags, but nothing major occurred. That everybody finally left more than satisfied is in itself an indication of how successful the 62nd Nationals turned out to be.

The national players were rested by the IHF, fearing strain and injury before the crucial Asiad in Doha. So, the quality was mediocre. But the 12-team superleague phase in Jalandhar provided some keen fare. More than the triumph of Punjab and Sind Bank, which retained the trophy, the attention was on Delhi and the Namdhari XI.

Two of the Delhi players celebrate after their team made it to the final after 60 years.-RAJEEV BHATT

The Namdhari XI performed beyond expectations. This team, which lowered the colours of former champions like Punjab and Airlines on successive days, cannot be ignored.

Admirable was the way the Namdharis played against the oppositions. Their essence of play is in trapping and distribution, apart from an enviable reserve of energy. The Namdharis actually dictated terms while playing against Punjab and Airlines.

Parminder of Punjab and Sind Bank played a stellarrole with two goals against Delhi in the final.-RAJEEV BHATT

The sheet anchor was Amalok Singh in the defence. Whether it be trapping or clearing, he was the winner always. His powerful hits paved the way for the frontline to launch repeated raids.

Gurvinder Singh and Sukhjinder Singh were the tormentors. The pressure they brought on the rival defence was striking.

So, when the team caved in against Delhi in the semifinal 1-2 and 2-7 against Indian Oil in the bronze medal match, there was a filament of disbelief.

Secondly, Delhi captured the imagination of one and all. None predicted its entry into the final, for the first time in the post independence era. The last time it made it to the final was in 1946. Delhi first entered the final in 1940 and next in 1942 when it claimed the trophy.

So a six-decade hiatus was bridged when Delhi, composed of a bunch of talented youngsters, fought remarkably well to edge out Mumbai 5-4 and then outshine Air-India 3-1. Led by the eye-catching dribbler Bikash Topno, Delhi sparkled in every layer, the best, however, being in the frontline sallies. With Ajitesh Rai laying up neat passes, the trio of Topno, Premkumar and Pramode Kumar left the defences bewildered. Harvinder and Rajinder in the mid-field and Jitender in the deep defence backed up goal-keeper Jasbir Singh.

The Delhi team was well balanced. What it probably lacked was the temperament to rise to the occasion, like in the final against the experienced and perfectly tuned outfit, Punjab and Sind Bank.

Delhi's final fiasco should in no way diminish the majesty of PSB's success. Unimpressive up to that point, PSB had everything rolling well for it in the final. Rajwinder Singh and Parminder Singh, assisted well by Baljit Chandi and Mandeep Singh, established clear superiority from the start.

The lacklustre show of Indian Oil, save for the bronze medal match, was a huge disappointment as were the performances of Airlines, Air-India and Railways even assuming that they were not in full strength.

Punjab, hosting the event after 25 years, fizzled out in the league. Both Mumbai and Tamil Nadu had something to feel happy about. Hemant Gethe and Jayesh Yadhav came off well for Mumbai, while mid-fielder Suresh and goal-keeper Shanugasundaram were prominent for Tamil Nadu. At the end of it all, one was left wondering why this event was not given prominence in the national calendar.

There cannot be a better system of identifying a talent pool than having the best from each State and institutions display their wares simultaneously in one or a few centres. All that the authorities need is the mindset and determination.

THE RESULTS

SUPER LEAGUE: A: Namdhari XI beat Punjab 1-0; beat Airlines

1-0; Punjab beat Airlines 1-0; B: Indian Oil beat Tamil Nadu 2-1;

beat Railways 1-0; Railways beat Tamil Nadu 1-0; C: Delhi beat

Mumbai 5-4; beat Air India 3-1; Air India beat Mumbai 1-0; D:

Punjab and Sind Bank beat Servicdes 3-1, beat Chandigarh 2-0;

Services beat Chandigarh 2-0;

SEMIFINALS: Delhi beat Namdhari XI 2-1; Punjab and Sind Bank

beat Indian Oil 1-0; THIRD PLACE MATCH: Indian Oil beat

Namdhari XI 7-2; FINAL: PSB beat Delhi 3-1.