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'Every man and his dog!'

A cruel remark by a commentator in India-Korea tie, but one which should lead to a rethink, writes Atul Sondhi.

india Updated: Sep 14, 2006 18:56 IST

With India's fourth match against Korea going into extremely tense last ten minutes, the Asia's top team was awarded a penalty stroke.

The Indian team, then in the driver's seat and clearly thinking that the umpire was wrong, was all over him to reason it out. Suddenly, there leapt a comment from a TV commentator that stunned the Indian viewers.

''As is the wont with the Indian team, every man and his dog is going to tell the umpire how wrong he was,'' he said in his baritone voice.

As it turned out, the umpire and the commentator were both wrong and the decision was eventually reversed in favour of India, but it clearly showed two things.

First, apparently every one associated with world hockey, has come to believe that India will protest against any umpiring decision that goes again it. Undoubtedly a wrong notion, but that is the notion widely held.

May be that is why the commentator never apologised for the comment. Probably the same comment can be used some other day, with more justification! 

Second, the Indian team today enters any tournament with a view that in close matches, especially against the top teams, critical decisions are bound to go against them.

That is why at times tackles are not so forceful with the fear of conceding penalty corners and worse, a penalty stroke - something that always looms in their mind.

But precisely this fear results in defensive lapses leading to the same Penalty Corners and Strokes. This seize mentality must end. As Amjad Khan famously said in Sholay, ''Jo dar gaya samjho mar gaya.''

Indian coach Vasudevan Baskaran has now lambasted umpires saying in a column that India had long suffered at the hands of incompetent umpires and it was high time it stopped.

The outburst was certainly expected after such a mauling which had given India just one point from five matches.

The former Olympic gold medallist may be right in some cases, but one wonders that in such a fast-paced  sport where umpire's discretion matters so much when deciding infringements, how will this happen.

The problem must be tackled diplomatically. After all, the Indian hockey is not Indian cricket where money can be used to bargain a fair deal!

Among the international hockey fraternity, such protests, and frustrations, can always be construed as sour grapes considering India has not finished among the top four in World Cup since 1975, when they won their only gold. 

With or without the help from umpires, the Indian hockey has always been on decline.

In fact, even in more favourable home environment in 1982, when the last time a World Cup was played on grass, India had finished a miserable fifth.

Then, in Mumbai, they had frittered a two-goal advantage against the Netherlands to lose 3-4, and then went down 1-2 to Australia in final group stage encounter that denied them the semi-final spot.

And unlike the present team shorn of stars, at that time India boasted of big names like Zafar Iqbal, Mohammad Shahid, Rajinder Singh, Surjit Singh and M K Kaushik.

It is also high time we should get rid of the notion that we are a top-rung hockey nation. The 1-6 mauling by Netherlands is a clear indicator as to where we stand, rather than narrow losses to Germany and Korea after we took the lead.

Realistically, we should aim for 5th to 8th finish in major tournaments and rewards should be announced for a 5th or 6th place finish. One crore for top finish looks some kind of cruel joke considering India's recent results.

Such public announcements also bring the load of expectations that cannot be fulfilled for at least next few years.

And when one says next few years, one is being a ttle too optimistic!