When the gloss came off the gold cup…

Shivendra Singh (No. 7) of Air India scoring the equaliser in the final.-Pics: M. VEDHAN Shivendra Singh (No. 7) of Air India scoring the equaliser in the final.

When the announcement came that the trophy would be shared, there was widespread disappointment, for the competition had been conducted with professionalism and with generous inputs from the sponsors. It really did leave a bitter taste in the mouth, writes S. Thyagarajan.

Hockey aficionados of Chennai spontaneously welcomed the resumption of the MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup hockey tournament which missed a link last year. There was eager expectation as before, and the turnout for every tie only underscored the enthusiasm for the popular event in this part of the region.

But the endgame was a shocker. None was prepared for the ugly spectacle of intransigence of the finalists — IOC and Air India — during the botched penalty corner shootout. There was bungling on all sides, eventually forcing the authorities to buckle under pressure and agree for a sharing of the trophies.

Till the penalty shootout — a dodge and dribble format from the 25-yard line to beat the goal-keeper in eight seconds — it was a dramatic match what with Air India recovering to cover a 0-2 deficit to finish at 2-2.

Chaos erupted after Uthappa, in the second try for IOC, dribbled in. He was expectedly challenged by goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh. But when he managed to tap in, the whistles clashed, one suggesting that the time was over and the other a goal. Predictably, the Air India players, led by Dhanraj Pillay, ran on to the field protesting the award. The goal was disallowed.

But if one hoped that the trouble would stop there, it was re-ignited by IOC after both Deepak Thakur and Bharath Chikkara fumbled in their attempts. Prabhjot Singh, who was readying for the fifth attempt, was prevented from going ahead. There were altercations, presumably laced with some degree of persuasion, involving the players, umpires and the Tournament Director, Md. Muneer.

None of those involved in the ugly spectacle was willing to budge from their position. One wondered why the IOC failed to protest before Deepak and Chikkara fumbled, especially when the scoreboard was clearly showing 4-3 (two for Air India and one for IOC). More shockingly, the usual extra-time leading to a golden goal was also given the go by.

The embarrassing scenario on the field caused a lot of discomfort to the dignitaries on the dais that included the top brass of the Murugappa Group and the Madras Cricket Club.

The Air India coach Dhanraj Pillay being pacified by the tournament director Md. Muneer.-

When the announcement came that the trophy would be shared, there was widespread disappointment, for the competition had been conducted with professionalism and with generous inputs from the sponsors. It really did leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

A little give and take by the players would have enhanced their stature immeasurably. They let down the organisers, the umpires and, more importantly, the spectators, by their inflexible attitude.

Earlier, the event produced a handful of interesting contests. It also projected quite a few promising stars like Chingling Sana, Victo Singh of Railways and Karan Baskaran, son of the Olympian, V. Baskaran, of All India Customs and Excise. The local outfits, IOB and ICF, performed a wee bit below expectations.

Perhaps the most touching moment after the fiasco of a final was the purse of Rs. 60,000 presented by the Murugappa Group to Shanti Mary, widow of the stalwart Olympian V. J. Peter. A matching gesture came from the Air India players who donated Rs. 50,000.