Oh, what a year it has been for Indian hockey! If it were a movie, it would sweep away all the awards for the drama, emotion and high octane action it produced in the last one year. Quite clearly, the year graph of Indian hockey has so many ups and downs that it just resembles the relationship of a married couple.
Let’s take a trip down the memory lane and check out how the year 2012 has been for Indian hockey:
The Flying Start
The year started with just one question in everyone’s mind, will India qualify for the Olympics after failing to do so the last time in 2008? The answer was Yes, and No. Indian men’s team, after beating France 8-1 in the final of the Olympics qualifiers, did reach the Olympics after a gap of eight years but on the other hand, the women’s team, which has been trying to qualify for last 32 years, failed yet again after losing to South Africa 3-1 in the final. Indian men’s team scored 44 goals in the 6 matches played, averaging 7 goals per game with Sandeep Singh top-scoring with 16 goals in the tournament.
India’s victory in the final of Olympics qualifiers once again brought hockey into limelight and India, which is known for its addiction to cricket, once again fell in love with hockey. Rajesh Kalra, the chief editor to Times of India wrote – ‘The Indian national anthem played at the end of the presentation ceremony. I had goose pimples listening to it as all other around sang out aloud. As I looked around, I noticed a gentleman near me, his eyes turned moist. Such feelings and emotions just cannot be described’ which just said one thing, India was once again in love with hockey.
The Rebel Rises
At the time when Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) and Hockey India (HI) were at loggerheads, Nimbus Sports teamed with IHF to come out with World Series Hockey (WSH), an event every Indian fan had been waiting for. In the era of IPL and EPL, the arrival of World Series Hockey was just the boost Indian hockey needed. Nimbus sports signed up big names of the Indian team and world hockey for its inaugural edition. Hockey India, the ruling body of hockey in India, did not allow the participation of Indian players in the tournament, and so the tournament went ahead without the presence of top Indian and foreign players.
Despite the absence of top players of the world, the tournament was a huge success with the stadium pulling large crowds and TV viewership reaching 31.36 million for the inaugural edition. The tournament brought in the limelight many youngsters like Devinder Walmiki, Gurjinder Singh, Lalit Upadhyay among others and also resurrected the career of seasoned players like Prabhjot Singh, Deepak Thakur and Arjun Halappa. Though the tournament was labelled ‘unsanctioned’ by Hockey India and Federation of International Hockey (FIH), the ratings suggested that the it was huge success.
The Mighty Fall
After the success in Olympics Qualifiers and World Series Hockey, Indian hockey was on a rise and there was a general feeling that there was nothing that could derail the upward climb of Indian hockey. Just when everything looked good, came the mighty fall which shook Indian hockey to the core. Everyone, from former players to fans, was expecting just one thing from Indian team, the Gold medal. But the fate had something else in mind for Indian hockey. The current players promised medal to the fans and former players but their performance in the Olympics was an embarrassment for every Indian hockey fan.
Indian team, under Captain Bharat Chetri failed to win or even draw a single game in the tournament, finishing at a disappointing 12th place, getting the wooden spoon for the first time in its decorated history. The Indian team promised to play 70 mins of good hockey, and did manage to play 70 mins of good hockey, but over the course of full tournament. After starting on a positive note (yes, we lost but played well), the performance started deteriorating and by the end of the Olympics, Indian hockey team just looked like a domestic level team without any motivation and power to fight back.
Hockey – Nothing official about it
So when the fans thought what else can go wrong for Indian hockey after a disastrous Olympics, an RTI query from a 10 year old kid gave India a big blow – The government announced that Hockey was never the national game of India, not officially at least.
Less said about it, the better. Not even the most cynical fan could have expected something like this to happen to Indian hockey, ever.
The 100 year war?
Just like the historic war between England and France, the war between Indian Hockey Federation and Hockey India keeps stretching on and on with each other threatening to destroy Indian hockey to gain power. Various committees, including one from Federation of International Hockey, were formed to solve the problems between IHF and HI but it looks like a never ending battle. The poor performance in the Olympics also fuelled the fire between these two. Looking at the current situation between these two, it might be possible for Indian hockey team to win a medal in the Olympics, but it looks unlikely for the war between these two to ever end.
The Slow Rise
After going through ups and downs throughout 2012, Indian team was invited to play Champions Trophy after a long gap of 6 years. It was looking like a money making exercise by FIH, but the performance of Indian team suggested otherwise. Indian team reached the semi-finals of Champions Trophy after 8 years where they lost to Pakistan, just like they did in 2003 and 2004. Also, India finished runners up in the Asian Champions Trophy which suggested that Indian hockey was slowly is getting back on track. The best thing about these performances was that it was a young team in the absence of seasoned stars, which helped India reach achieve these results.
A Legend Lost
At a time when the Indian team was on a slow rise, Indian hockey lost another pillar, this time legend Leslie Claudius. Claudius was being treated for cirrhosis of liver and had to be hospitalised four times in the past 11 months. Like on the hockey pitch, he battled hard and came out out winner more often than not, before finally succumbing on the afternoon of 20th December, 2012.
An eminent member of India’s golden generation, Claudius storied career saw him winning three Olympic gold medals – 1948 (London), 1952 (Helsinki) and 1956 (Melbourne) – and a silver (1960, Rome). He along with Udham Singh, were the only two players in the history of hockey to have won four Olympic medals. Leslie Claudius might have left this world, but he still keeps on inspiring hockey players all over India.
The Competition brews up
And finally on the lines of IPL in cricket, Hockey India came out with its own league – the Hockey India League to compete with Indian Hockey Federation backed World Series Hockey. Hockey India roped in all the top players of the world in 30 days, for a 5 team (one team still unsold) tournament. Sardar Singh fetched the highest price of Rs. 42,90,000 among the Indians in the auctions, with teammate V.R. Raghunath going for Rs. 41,80,000. The costliest player of the auctions was Dutch veteran Teun De Nooijer. Hockey India League, which begins on January 14, will surely keep fans glued to TV.
The year 2012 has been a year to forget, with disappointments on all sides – from performing badly in the Olympics, to losing a legend. I just hope that the year 2013 breathes a new life in Indian hockey.