The pathetic show put up by the Indian team at the World Cup has deeply bruised the pride of a former soldier-Olympian and nudged him to return to the field in the twilight of his life.
Emerging from the shadows of retirement to give that one last push to the game, 72-year-old Colonel Haripal Kaushik — a veteran of three Olympics — has decided to train his regiment's hockey team, which has been on the downslide. Kaushik's ball-manoeuvring skills on the field were matched in full measure by his daring exploits on the battlefield, for which he was awarded a Vir Chakra for valour shown during the 1962 India-China war.
Sharpening the killer instinct of the Sikh Regimental Centre (SRC) hockey squad should not be a tough task for this decorated soldier, who was the vice captain of the gold-winning squad at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He was also a member of the teams that won the Olympics gold and silver, respectively, at Melbourne in 1956 and Rome in 1960.
Kaushik, who is settled in Jalandhar, told HT, “I want to make a small contribution to the game that made me the man I am and which has hit rock bottom today. There's little to motivate Army teams since rules do not permit discretionary promotions or financial incentives, as is the case with other organisations.”
He has chosen to “mentor” the SRC squad because “paltan bonds never die”.
Kaushik, who was also the vice captain when India won gold at the 1966 Bangkok Asian Games, regretted that the Indian Hockey Federation had failed to evolve a mechanism to draw on the experiences of former players.
“The game has transformed vastly over the years. Playing on astroturf requires more stamina. Stoppages are few due to changed rules. But the stick and the ball remain the same,” added Kaushik, who also runs the Khusropur Hockey Club in his village to identify and nurture rural talent.