Champions Trophy 2018: Bidding adieu to a prestigious showpiece and a slice of hockey history
With an air of nostalgia, old-timers still recall with pride, a historic Champions Trophy encounter played on November 19, 1985 at Perth. An Indian squad consisting of Pargat Singh, Jude Felix, Mohammed Shahid, Joaquim Carvalho, and MM Somaya (among others) took on West Germany who had the prolific penalty corner specialist Carsten Fischer (nicknamed the Man with the Hammer), and Stefan Blocher in their ranks.
The Germans opened the scoring by virtue of a penalty stroke in the 33rd minute, while India equalized in the 36th.
The Germans then went on a rampage, courtesy of a hattrick from Fischer and a brace from Blocher to lead 5-1 with 19 minutes left on the clock (in a 70-minute encounter). What followed was one of the most dramatic comebacks ever in the history of international hockey.
Mohinderpal Singh scored for India in the 62nd minute and then Mohammed Shahid added to the tally three minutes later. Pargat Singh found the mark with a couple of minutes remaining.
In the very last minute, India earned a penalty stroke and Joaquim Carvalho made no mistake from the spot. The score was 5-5 and the Indians had magically scored four goals in the space of eight minutes to level the match.
The Champions Trophy is replete with numerous such instances of classic encounters which have been immortalized in the annals of world hockey.
All good things come to an end, however, and alas, the following edition of the tournament will also be the last.
Breda plays host to the finale of hockey's premier showcase
Six of the top hockey-playing nations on earth will assemble in the Dutch city of Breda less than a month from now to compete for one last time in a tournament that has long been considered to be the showpiece of world hockey and the FIH's most prestigious annual (and now biennial) tournament.
An exclusive event graced by only the very best, the Champions Trophy is steeped in history having witnessed some epic and unforgettable action over the last 36 editions.
When the very best are pitted against each other in a round-robin format, the psychological pressure of having to play five matches on the trot against evenly matched world-class teams takes precedence over skill, technique, and expertise.
Only the very best come through unscathed to face up in the summit clash, as the others lock horns in classification matches which are just as vital with regard to rank and prestige.
In terms of FIH rankings, the top 4 in the world (Australia, Argentina, Belgium, and the Netherlands) will be joined by sixth-ranked India. Hosts Netherlands, Olympic Champions Argentina, and Australia (winners of the World Cup, World League, and 2016 Champions Trophy) have qualified for the tournament while India, Belgium, and Pakistan have been invited by the FIH Executive Board.
But, if the Champions Trophy does indeed feature only the very best, then why do Pakistan ranked 13th in the world, find a place amongst the elite?
It is fitting indeed, that the nation where the Champions Trophy was born and bred, should be part of the final edition.
Champions Trophy and the Pakistan connection
Air Marshal Nur Khan of Pakistan was a sports administrator par excellence. It was during his tenure as President of the Pakistan Hockey Federation, that the nation's hockey rose to dizzying heights as the team won two consecutive World Cups in 1978 and 1982 which was followed by gold in the 1984 Olympics.
The Air Marshal was instrumental in pursuing the growth of world hockey as well with the introduction of a new international tournament in 1978 which was christened the Champions Trophy.
As part of its golden run, Pakistan won the first two editions of the Champions Trophy as hosts in 1978 and 1980. From 1981 onwards, the tournament grew in stature and was converted into an annual event.
The Australian juggernaut, flanked by Germany and the Dutch
Numbers do not lie, and the three most successful hockey nations in history (post the 1980s) also have the best record in the Champions Trophy.
The Netherlands wrested the gold from Pakistan in 1981 in Karachi and won at home in Amstelveen again in 1982.
One of the greatest hockey sides in history, consisting of the great Ric Charlesworth, Colin Batch, Micheal Nobbs, and Terry Walsh (to name a few) beat Pakistan to win gold in 1983 and 1984 and earned a hattrick of wins for Australia by beating Great Britain in 1985.
West Germany took over in 1986 beating the Aussies to win gold and repeated the feat in 1987 and 1988 as well, beating the Netherlands and Pakistan respectively.
The Aussies have been the most successful team in the history of the competition with 14 gold, 10 silver, and 4 bronze. It was only on three occasions (in 1991, 1994, and 2006) that the indomitable kookaburras failed to win a medal out of 35 appearances. Australia has been a part of every edition of the tournament since it's inception, except the one in 2004.
The Netherlands has a total of 33 appearances (8 gold, 6 silver, 8 bronze) while Germany has participated 32 times (10 gold, 7 silver, 7 bronze).
The architects of the tournament, Pakistan has been a part of the Champions Trophy 31 times winning 3 gold, 7 silver, and 7 bronze.
How has India fared in the most gruelling competition?
India has not had a particularly impressive run in the Champions Trophy. Out of a total of 15 appearances since 1980 when India first entered the competition, they have never ever won the title. India won bronze in 1982 and failed to reach the podium since, finishing fourth on 7 occasions.
All that changed in 2016 as an inspired Indian team coached by Roelant Oltmans drew with Germany (3-3), beat Great Britain (2-1), and South Korea (2-1) but lost to Australia and Belgium in the round robin matches. India qualified for the final, however, and gave the Aussies a run for their money as the scoreline was goalless at the end of the regulation time.
The Aussies prevailed in a close shootout in rather controversial circumstances and the Indians lodged a protest in vain. The silver in London was India's best performance ever in Champions Trophy history.
The Indians were unable to match their 2010 CWG silver-medal winning performance and finished fourth in Gold Coast despite being ranked second. Can they now attempt to match their 2016 Champions Trophy silver-medal winning performance in Breda being ranked second to last?
Nothing short of an inspired performance will suffice and who better to lead from the front than coach Harendra Singh and captain Sreejesh who have both stood on podiums in the past.
The classic subcontinental clash beckons
India takes on Pakistan in the opener on June 23 which will be a massive big-ticket event. How has India fared against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy?
India and Pakistan drew 0-0 when they met for the first time in the competition in 1980. Since then it has been a see-saw battle but Pakistan has the distinct edge. Out of a total of 16 encounters, India has won 6, and Pakistan 9, with one goalless draw.
What is significant, however, is that India has beaten Pakistan only once in a medal (or classification match) winning bronze against their arch-rivals in 1982, but losing bronze to Pakistan in 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2012.
Irrespective of the results, it has always been a matter of immense pride to compete in the Champions Trophy, and hockey lovers around the world will watch with bated breath as the giants of world hockey display their mettle in Breda in an effort to etch their name for one last time on hockey's showcase event.