Hockey team lead India's hopes at Asian Games

  • Reuters, PTI, New Delhi
  • |
  • Updated: Sep 26, 2002 16:47 IST

They have been described as temperamental, overzealous and sometimes plain careless. But India is counting on its men's hockey team for a gold medal at the Asian Games starting in Pusan on Sunday.

It may be just nostalgia but the only sport apart from cricket that Indians hold close to their hearts is hockey.

Six consecutive Olympic golds under players such as Dhyan Chand and K.D. Singh Babu in the first decades of last century made the country a hockey power like no other.

But the creation of Pakistan in 1947 and the introduction of artificial turf in the game changed all that.

Going into the 1960 Rome Games, India had a cumulative Olympic record of 30 wins and no losses. Their goal tally was 197 scored and only eight conceded.

But they lost the title to Pakistan in a hard-fought final, a defeat which was considered a national tragedy back home.

The Olympic title went back to India in 1964 and they won again in 1980. But since then, the country has not won a hockey medal of any colour at the Olympic Games.

Four years ago, in Bangkok, India won their first Asian Games gold in 32 years. After finishing fourth in the elite six-nation Champions Trophy in Germany earlier this month, the chances of defending that Asian title seem good.

"The boys are playing well, the morale is high," chief coach Rajinder Singh said.

"If we play to our potential, we should win gold."


India's Games team as a whole are upbeat after the country won an unprecedented haul of 30 golds at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester last month.

But facing the challenge of China, Japan and hosts South Korea in India's other favourite events — shooting, boxing and weightlifting — will not be easy.

India's shooters, led by Anjali Bhagwat and Jaspal Rana, picked up 14 gold medals at Manchester.

The contingent have been performing consistently at international tournaments overseas over the last two years but will have a hard task against the heavily favoured marksmen from South Korea.

"It would be unfair to expect us to win the same number of medals we did in Manchester," coach Sunny Thomas said. "There is potential but we need to be realistic because the level of competition will be of world standard."

Badminton player Pullela Gopichand has been a shadow of himself since winning the All England singles title in 2001.

The 28-year-old Gopichand, from the southern city of Bangalore, has slipped from seventh in the world rankings to the late 20s after an injury-blighted year.

It would be a surprise if he won a medal against some of the best players in the world from China, Indonesia and Malaysia.

India's main athletics hope rests on long jumper Anju Bobby George, who won bronze at the Commonwealth Games and reached 6.74 metres two weeks ago for Asia's best mark this year.

Another strong contender is K. Beenamol, a semi-finalist in the 400 metres at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.


But nothing would thrill India more than a men's hockey gold, especially as it would mean pipping traditional rivals Pakistan to the post.

The Indian team, led by captain Dilip Tirkey and striker Dhanraj Pillay, beat Pakistan in a round-robin match at the Champions Trophy in Cologne, in their first clash in a major tournament for 36 years.

But Pakistan got their revenge in the bronze-medal match, coming back in the final 10 minutes from 3-1 down to win 4-3.

India's loss followed severe media criticism and Player of the Tournament Pillay raised a storm by accusing his team mates of "non-cooperation".

Coach Rajinder has been trying his best over the last week to play down the controversy.

"There is no problem in the team," he said. "Dhanraj is an excellent player, everyone respects him."

India are in pool A of the eight-team competition at the Games with Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, the runners-up in Bangkok.

Rajinder said his team's strategy would be simple — attack.

Under him, the Indians have relied on the more creative Asian style of the game, which consists mainly of short passes and inventive dribbling.

But the inconsistency has remained.

"We have to play to our strength," Rajinder said. "We are as good as anybody in the world. We just have to keep it together."


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