Film star Priyanka Chopra’s clarion call — “phir dil do hockey ko (give your heart to hockey again)” — is inspiring thousands in Delhi to pack the National Stadium and root for the Indian team in the on-going World Cup.
Alas, the team, after a resounding start against Pakistan, disappointed a motley crowd of young vociferous people, many of whom seemed innocent to the nuances of the game, but wanted India to win.
First I must confess that it was more than a pleasant surprise to find that the entry to the stadium for ticket-holders was not stifling at all, despite the understandably tight security arrangements. The irritating frisking, a necessary evil of our times, was done by the cops efficiently and without being rude. The stadium itself looks imposing and one can have an unhindered and close view of the ground from anywhere in the stands.
The electronic scoreboard and the giant screen showing most of the action live inside the stadium is a great help to the spectators in enjoying the game. The organisers deserve a pat for their efficient conduct of the championship so far.
The atmosphere inside the stadium when India is playing is almost electric with thousands screaming in unison whenever India is on the prowl. The tournament came alive on the opening day itself when the team forged a bond with those thousands who were present at the ground. The crowd was unabashedly partisan but did not raise any offensive slogan against Pakistan.
It was a crowd that knew where to draw the line and treat the match as a sporting contest and not a war.
This almost seemed a throwback to a time when Indians were the undisputed champions of the world and the romance of hockey was still alive.
The same crowd, now thirsting for more, realised the harsh truth in the next two matches that their team was not good enough to compete in the international arena. The awesome Australians and the clinical Spaniards exposed our team for what it is worth - an almost non-existent defence, poor fitness levels and lack of tactical acumen.
Will the upwardly mobile crowd be willing to back the team even now? Or will this short-lived romance end here and now? A team cannot win matches just by media hype and crowd support. They also can’t become world beaters on doles and charity. And there must be something inherently wrong with a team which used blackmail tactics to get their “dues” from the federation at a time when they should have been preparing for the tournament. And there must surely be something wrong with us as well who most of the time don’t care for the sport but are all of a sudden rooting for it only because it might satisfy our “Nationalistic ego”.
If the above surmise is not true, then we should not sever our links with the game as abruptly as they were forged.
The deep-rooted shortcomings at the grass-root level, lack of funding and inept administration has ruined the sport and for it to come back on the rails will require more than just giving our “dil” to the game.