The whole of India knows hockey is their national game, but still they never think twice before choosing cricket over the sport. The secondary status is evident from the fact that even a domestic league cricketer gets above Rs 50,000 as match fee, when an Indian national hockey player gets less than Rs 25,000 for their international outing. India adores Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and MS Dhoni, but ask anyone out there who is Sandeep Singh and the answer could be a sad nod in the negative. The Indian penalty corner specialist is among the best in the world but is not a celebrity in his own land. Same is the case with Bharat Chethri, one of the most impenetrable goal keepers of all time.
Over the last two decades, Indian hockey’s reputation has been badly hurt, ever since they failed to impress at the 2004 Olympics. The sport lost popularity and fans, and we also saw the team’s performance dipping dramatically as the eight-time gold medalists failed to qualify for the 2008 edition of the gaming event.
It came as an absolute shocker and embarrassment for the nation. It was struggling time for the sport, and the rift in administration fuelled a downfall.
All bad days seem to be getting over for the better. 2011 was the year of change in Indian hockey with a bunch of youngsters coming to the side and posting their first noticeable success in a long time by winning the inaugural Asian Champions trophy. The team unleashed real attacking hockey all throughout the tournament.
After starting the campaign by thrashing theChina5-0, it was a fight to the finish as the tourney progressed. The final round robin match for India was against arch rivalsPakistan, and both the teams played to finish for a 2-all draw. With 2 wins and 3 draws, India managed to earn a berth in the finals againstPakistan. The final was a real fight for pride for the teams, and at the end of it all,Indiawere crowned champions.
India’s next great success came in January when they took onSouth Africaat home for a 5 match test series, and the boys won the 5-test series 3-1
The tournament showed real signs of improvements for the side, especially in attack, the midfield easily foxing the opponents and the defense nearly impenetrable. Though much of the credit is due to the Aussie coach Michale Nobbs, the tournament showcased exceptional talents in Yuvraj Valmeki and Sk Uthappa, who has already reserved a berth in the Olympic qualifiers mark in the game.
India’s next task will be the Olympic qualifier tournament comprising Italy, Singapore, France, Canada and Poland. The teams will play a round robin league with the first two teams fighting for a berth in the London Olympics.
With a talented line up raring to go, all the team needs now is the support of the mother land. Will we, at least now, start rooting for games other than cricket too?