History has come a full circle for Indian hockey. South Korea proved India's nemesis in its attempt to win gold at the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo, where the game was introduced. 48 years down, the same Koreans have thrown India out of medal contention, on the same stage. Two different situations, but on both occasions Indian hockey hit a historical low.
The 1958 executive committee meeting of the IHF in Bombay had only one concern — winning gold at the Tokyo Asiad. This was also the meeting where Ashwini Kumar was elected the IHF president. The new IHF president was in for a shock.
For the first time ever, India finished second in any competition in hockey. In the five-team competition, India and Pakistan, finalists two years ago at the Melbourne Olympics, played out a goal-less draw. But Pakistan pushed India to second spot on goal average. Triple Olympic gold medallist Balbir Singh, Indian captain at Tokyo, never got to play for India again. Pakistan went on to win its first Olympic gold two years later at the same venue.
India was done in by the Korean factor at Tokyo. India and Pakistan had defeated Malaysia with identical scores (6-0), but while India overwhelmed Japan 8-0, Pakistan beat them 5-0. But the three-goal advantage was rendered useless, as Pakistan outplayed Korea 8-0 whereas India could only manage a 2-1 win.
Ashwini Kumar and Balbir Singh (Sr.) are still around to witness history being repeated. The duo would just wonder why they were subjected to such a criticism then despite bringing a silver medal! Korea have transformed from what they were in the 1950s and 60s.
The favourite whipping boys then, they became giant killers in the 1980s and 90s. Pakistan went home empty handed for the first time at Busan when they lost to Korea in the semis, with Paul Lissek's Malaysia doing the rest in the bronze medal play off. On Sunday, India needed an outright win but the Koreans, despite playing at half pace, walked away with a draw.
Twenty years after India came 12th at the World Cup (London in 1986) and two months after finishing 11th at another World Cup (Monchengladbach), Indian agony was repeated at Doha. London was understandable as the Seoul Asiad finished just a day before the World Cup. Doha debacle has no excuse. India's hockey heritage lies buried under the dunes of Doha.