It is a shame that the Indian men's hockey team let go of its hope of breaking a 30-year-old jinx and entering the semi-finals of the World Cup so easily. India last won the World Cup way back in 1975. There have been seven World Cups since then and India has never figured in the final four of any of them. The late brace the Koreans scored at Monchengladbach in Germany the other day not only denied India a crucial win, but it also left them languishing at the bottom of the preliminary pool.
True, on current form, nobody gave the Indians a chance of going anywhere near the final. Besides, the sixth-ranked boys in blue had a tough draw, which placed them in the same group as powerhouses Germany and Holland - teams they have never beaten in the World Cup before. But even then, India did not have any excuse for playing as if the wooden spoon in the 12-nation tourney was all that mattered. The Indians have to do some hard thinking if they are to get out of the losing habit in top-level international hockey, where no team can afford to be weighed down by reverses like the loss of Sandeep Singh, the drag-flick penalty corner specialist. Nor can any team succumb to intense pressure and concede late goals the way India did.
That said, those who preside over the game should also do more to inspire the players to play to their potential. Establishing new sports centres (as in Patiala and Bangalore) and introducing the Premier Hockey League have been good moves by the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF). But they may not achieve much as long as research into technical aspects of the game (like evaluating tactics) lags so far behind that of the hockey-playing countries of Europe and Oceania. Even a small country like Holland has more than 250 hockey turfs, while there are hardly two dozen in India. Apart from attracting sponsorship for hockey, the IHF could also encourage India's veteran players to become proactive and pool their expertise so that their valuable inputs could reach coaches and players.