The sport which threw numerous India-Pakistan classics, kindled the passion for sports in India and set the ball rolling, has only gone into exile today. Pioneered by the legendary ‘wizard’ Dhyan Chand, the sport forced many to stand up and watch, or rather hear an enthralling contest that unfolded on the field. Any form of pulsating action would go down well with everyone and so did this sport. Yes, we’re talking about Hockey, the Indian national sport till recently.
After ruling the roost for a couple of decades, the game faded away to exile and now, is on the verge of extinction. The national team have been awarded the wooden spoon at Olympics, and in turn the eyeballs have declined, the sport failed to set the cash registers ringing. Quite a few are under the misconception and delusion that the rise of cricket thwarted or routed hockey from its roots and has gone on to lead the Indian sports hierarchy.
Today every brand seeks the cricketers to endorse it, every media house uses cricket news to up its TRPs and all this led to a surge in the income of those associated with cricket. The remuneration of a cricketer today is Rs. 80 lac for an ODI game, excluding the heap of bucks from the sponsors. A hockey player on the other hand doesn’t manage to earn that much throughout his career. This has led to an angry lot who are cynical about cricket and point fingers at it for the downfall of hockey. Cricket’ dominance is misconstrued to have ruined hockey and this is nothing but an baseless allegation, and just an escapist tactic.
The reasons for decline of hockey and the subsequent rise of cricket are as follows:
1. The Asiad ’82 was a milestone event for hockey in the subcontinent. India and Pakistan were destined to play the finals and a high voltage contest was on the cards. This marked the footsteps of color TVs in India and millions had crowded in front of their color sets to catch glimpses of the riveting contest that was waiting to unfold. The Indians opened their account with a goal and the nation jumped jubilantly and this was the last time hockey enjoyed such cheers and applause. In that very game, Pakistan mauled us 7-1 and there was deafening silence in the nation. Hitherto, the silence hasn’t evaporated for Hockey.
Co-incidentally, this was the time when Kapil Dev lifted the 1983 World Cup and the image of the shining cup with the grin of Kapil Dev has been etched in our memory till date. From then on, it’s been lull for the Hockey side and on the contrary, the Indian cricket team has gone places.
2. The Indian crowd always loves to end up in the winning side and a testimony to this is the TRP ratings that drops drastically when the Indians are losing or are eliminated from a tourney. From 1983, the Indian trophy cabinet is rich with accolades that include three WC wins, a joint win at Champions trophy, and other important away series wins. From 1982 to 2011, the Indian team has reached the semi-finals 5 times in the WC, 1 time runner-up and two times winners.
The ODI side is ranked #2 and the just a short while ago, the test team reached the numero uno status. On the other hand, how many times has the hockey team bulldozed its way to the semi-finals of a WC or Olympics? NULL. Barring the 2010 Commonwealth Games Silver, the hockey team has fallen to the depths and have stagnated at #11 in the FIH rankings. It tells a tale or two about the reason behind the abysmal treatment of hockey.
3. Till 1982, Indian hockey had a lot of glitter and Indian cricket was subjected to dogmatism by the cricketing heavyweights. Until 1982, it was the radio era and games were only heard. Post that, the revolution of color TVs swept the Indian households and now, the sports were viewed live on television. Viewing a game brings with it a totally new dimension and the contest gets more gripping when the action is seen rather than heard. Hence, in this important TV dominant era, hockey took the backseat and cricket rose against all odds, engineered by Sachin Tendulkar, a darling of the masses and an angel for the sponsors.
On the whole, the rise of cricket has just coincided with the fall of hockey and holding cricket responsible for the same is just downright rubbish. It is like pointing at Kohli for the dip in form of Sachin. If one resorts to the blame game, the managers need to blamed. When the Indian team won the ICC T20 World Cup, the players were gifted Rs. 80L each and a celebratory rally was arranged.
In contrast, the IHF could not even give the players a rousing reception at home. Encouragement was hence missing and no wonder the chips are down today. The players of hockey only regret to have played the sport and even Dhanraj Pillay went on air saying he would want his son to play cricket rather than hockey. When such statements are made, it spells bad omen for the sport.
For all that you might know, cricket might be faced with the same apathy a couple of decades later and my son might be here articulating on the decline of cricket and rise of football. So did cricket kill hockey? Never. It was a suicidal own goal.