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IHF's 'plans' prove a recipe for disaster

Despite frequent changes in the team and management, Indian hockey has only moved backwards, reports Uthra Ganesan.

india Updated: Dec 23, 2006 00:29 IST

It would be stating the obvious that Indian hockey continued to decline in 2006. It would be no exaggeration either to say that, despite frequent changes in the team and the team management, Indian hockey has only moved backwards.

Nevertheless, a look back through the year for the national sport becomes a necessity, if only because, deep down, the game still connects. Because, unlike most other sports, it is a game where we can actually claim to have been world's best, at one point. Because, despite everything that could go wrong, there is still hope.

The lowlight of the year would no doubt be India's failure to make it to the semifinals at the recent Asian Games, for the first time ever. It was not a surprise, but it most definitely was not expected.

A look at India's international assignments this year would reveal that, despite three major, multinational events — the Commonwealth Games, the World Cup and the Asiad — India hardly played any meaningful competitive hockey internationally.

Between the Azlan Shah tournament in June and the World Cup in September, there were only “training camps”. After the World Cup, it was back to the “camps” for fitness and training. This in itself is proof enough of the incompetence of the decision makers in the IHF.

Any coach in the world would tell — and many have told the Indian media, team management and the IHF — that staying locked away from all outside contact for almost two months, with strict instructions on communication, does no good to the players’ spirit or motivation levels.

Neither does it help in judging the match fitness or temperament of a player during actual game situations. But that is exactly what the Indians have been doing.

And still, they end up dropping a senior at the 11th hour! What were the trainers, the physios and the management doing with him for two months, before they realised he did not fit in?

Further, fiddling with the team management, months before major tournaments, is stupid. Coach Baskaran was brought in after the Commonwealth Games, with a rider — the tenure would be till the Asian Games, and then we will see. That gave the new coach just over eight months to forge a winning unit from a team that has been repeatedly losing for the past two years. It called for a miracle, and Baskaran is no magician.

For that matter, no one is. And that remains the crux of India's problem. The formula for success is that there is no formula — there is only a target that needs to be set and worked at, with hard work and planning. The hard work on players' part may be there, but is there any planning in what the IHF does? Does it even have a clear target? Does it have a vision? Certainly not.

In fact, IHF-bashing has become so common that even staunch critics of Messrs Gill & Co have now started targeting their ire at other sources, including the players.

But fact remains that, when no player knows his place, when performance is no guarantee to remain in the team, when the tenure of a coach is more a matter of speculation than certainty, is it any wonder that players are more than happy playing for their employers than the country? Not that they don't care.

At the Azlan Shah in KL earlier this year, there were refreshing signs of seniors leading the pack, of a team playing as a unit, of players supporting and encouraging others. It helped India finish on the podium after almost three years. But, somewhere down the line, it all went astray.

Now, the FIH has decided to step in to "revive" Indian hockey. But the will to do so has to come from within. Another change of coach is on the cards. Another round of dropping senior players is on line. But it would not help. Unless the system decides to take stock of itself.

The high point: Captain Dilip Tirkey being voted in the World XI, despite India's dismal showing at the World Cup. Since this selection depends on public and the coaches from the other teams actually naming their choice —instead of voting for already nominated members — it only reaffirms the fact that this team does have the talent to win. Flipside: Dilip is one of the players in the line of fire for "unsure fitness"! Howzzat?

First Published: Dec 23, 2006 00:24 IST