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December 2003 - January 2004

India Sport Scene

India's Resurgence In Hockey on the World Stage

by Ramesh Seedhar

India insures a place in 2006 World Hockey Tournament by lifting the Asia Cup. Ignace Tirkey played the game of his life as India thrashed their bitter rivals Pakistan. in a nerve racking final to win their first ever Asia Cup title. This insured them place in the 2006 World Hockey Cup.

With just one minute and twenty-seven seconds left on the clock the teams were locked up 2-2 and the match appeared to be heading towards extra time. However Ignace Tirkey, a defender, performed a Houdini act. After collecting a pass from Baljeet Singh Saini, he followed it with a brilliant solo dribble to score a goal and put India in front. The drama was not yet over, as India capped their super show with another fine goal by Prabhjot Singh 14 seconds before the final whistle.

India, who was playing their first major tournament without their penalty corner expert Jugraj Singh, dominated the game. Jugraj who had an outstanding tournament in the Champions trophy missed the Asia Cup because of an accident.

India was the first to score when Kanwalpreet Singh converted their first penalty corner in the sixth minute. Pakistan's reply was to score two goals from the penalty corners. Their expert of penalty corners, ace Sohail Abbas converted in the 7th and 12th minute. India however controlled the game, dishing out excellent fare and outplaying Pakistan constantly. The Indian team played some intelligent hockey, constantly dispossessing the ball from their rivals with impressive tackles. Their efforts bore fruit when forward Gagan Singh deflected the ball in the goal to level the score to 2-2.

The Indian hockey team was jubilant on winning their maiden Asia Cup in Kuala Lumpur. India had reached the final by defeating the defending champion South Korea in the semi-final. It was again an action packed match, which India won by scoring thrice in four minutes in the second half, to clinch a thrilling 4-2 victory.
The Indian hockey team confirmed that their form was no fluke when they notched up their third win in Hockey at the Afro Asian Games in Hyderabad with a comprehensive 4-2 win over their traditional rival Pakistan.
Prior to winning the Asia Cup, the Hockey Chief Coach Rajinder Singh felt that all is not right with the Indian Hockey team. He said that the players are discontented and lacking in concentration. A visibly peeved Rajinder Singh admitted that there are problems in the team and blamed the media for creating unnecessary hype and fuelling discontentment. There is a feeling that some players are getting good contracts while others are not and that is affecting the team. Although it is good that media is supporting the team with publicity but it is also making the players feel that they are heroes and this is making them complacent.
Taking the swipe at some of the senior players he said that they should become politicians, as they are good talkers Rajinder Singh, a former Olympian Hockey player, blamed the lack of concentration on the part of some players for Champions trophy debacle. They were distracted. by the attention given by the media with the result that they could neither take rest or train properly. The Coach in an unusual outburst also slammed those who had made immature statements pertaining to his tenure. The team did reasonably well in my tenure except for the Champion's trophy.
After just one month in Holland there were reports, which suggested that I might be sacked, admitting that such reports did create unwanted pressure on him. He said that all the talk about bringing in foreign coaches had little value. You can call ten coaches and I can challenge them that they will not be able to give results because the basics of the team needed to be improved. The Coach said that the players in the national squad were taking their places for granted. Unless there is competition for places in the side the players will become a little complacent. What we need is a strong second line up with the youngsters fighting to replace the senior players. This would be a great motivator.
These were harsh words from the Coach but it had the desired effect with victories in Kuala Lumpur and Hyderabad. The Coach said that the absence of Jugraj Singh was a big setback for the team and there could be no substitute for the talented youngster. Jugraj Singh is probably the world's best drag flicker and I would rate him better then even Sohail Abbas of Pakistan. There can be no player who can take his place, but the trio Didir Singh, Dilip Tirkey and Baljeet Singh Dhillon will employ variations to make up for Jugraj's absence.
It is surprising to note that there has been talk about sacking of the Indian Hockey coach. The exploits of Rajinder Singh's team in recent month have enabled hockey to regain its hold on the national soul. With the Asia cup triumph at Kuala Lumpur the hockey team has left its stamp of authority in a manner that will bring back to the fold followers who were dropping out for want of famous victories.
The resurgence of Indian hockey could not have been better timed. With Indian Cricket taking a lay off after the World Cup, the eyes of every Indian and even the staunchest cricket supporter was trained on hockey matches between India and Pakistan. The winning of the Asia Cup followed by the victory at the Afro Asia Games, and in both games against their old rival Pakistan, has finally laid to rest Pakistan's dominance over India in Hockey.
The Indian Hockey Federation President K.P.S Gill announced a cash award of Rs 1 Lakh each to the members of the Indian team, which won the gold in the inaugural edition of the Afro Asian Games. Meanwhile Mr Vikram Varma, the Union Sports Minister congratulated the Indian team for their great achievement. "It is a momentous occasion in the sporting history of India," he commented. He was all praise for the Indian coach Rajinder Singh and centre forward Gagan Ajit Singh."This should be new chapter in Indian hockey" he said.

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