Antanio Anatov, Secretary of the Bulgarian Hockey Federation, is a happy man. NRI business magnate Laxmi Mittal, who recently took over the biggest steel plant in Bulgaria, has agreed to sponsor their national team. “He agreed to sponsor for a $1 million. We will use part of that money to acquire an Indian coach to prepare our team for next year’s European Champions Challenge,” says Anatov.
He is confident that an Indian import will improve the sagging morale of Bulgarian hockey, which is stagnating in Division C of European rankings. India’s current World Cup campaign does not seem to deviate him from the original plan. “Your hockey is big, very big” is what he says disapprovingly in broken English, when asked whether he would reconsider his plan, after India’s dismal show here. It hurts. While part of the hockey world still looks upon India as a “big power”, our men in Monchengladbach don’t seem to peg their stick straight and play with pride. There have been some improvements here and there, but overall the big picture remains as it has been all along — fruitless.
Their abject surrenders at the World Cup are difficult to comprehend. The team looks physically fit and has bundles of energy. They appear a motivated lot.
Victory or defeat, the team takes a lap after matches and waves to the crowd before trooping back to the dressing room.
In the four years between KL and Germany, coaches have come and gone. Old players have faded while new ones have surfaced. Yet, the story remains same.
Our hockey refuses to improve. It seems cast in a stereotypical mould that is difficult to break free of. Forwards miss plenty of chances, last-minute goals are conceded and rarely does the team dominate a match for more than a few minutes. Every plan, like the overhead passes, ends up everywhere except where it is intended. What has gone wrong? Though this is not the ideal question to raise midway through a World Cup, one can’t help it. Coach Baskaran is diplomatic — he has no other choice.
Sometimes he vents his anger on the forwards, sometimes on the defenders, and the midfielders do not escape his fury either. The real person Baskaran is angry with is himself. His promises of changing the team’s fortunes have remained just that — a promise. Hockey is like a tri-cycle where the three wheels — forward, midfield and defence — must move in tandem if a team is to be successful in a tournament such as the World Cup. Against Germany in the opener, the Indian defence collapsed.
Everything was in shambles in the next encounter against England and the forwards fumbled against the African champions in the third. The team has been weighed down right after their loss in the first game. However, a lot is still at stake. Every rung the team climbs in the world rankings earns it points in the FIH rankings — something that’ll decide our qualification for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Keep your fingers crossed.