Monday, April 2, 2012

Rejoice, for ye hockey has won -- April 2, 2012

As the World Series Hockey has winded down, some notes from the event:

1) The tournament as a whole was dud, even if the commentators were noting it for being the epitome of brilliance. The primary reason for this dud-ness is that many of the famous/mainstream Indian hockey stars did not take part in the event. What we essentially saw at WSH were the "discards", the "fallouts", the "also-rans" and the "tomorrows". In terms of foreign stars, we saw the fading Imran Warsi (who could still share the Golden Stick at the end of the event), Rehan Butt, Shakeel Abbasi, the retired Brent Livermore and the almost-retired Ken Pereira. Why else will anyone fight it out with their own hockey federations' in a see-saw battle with the FIH? It is a singular matter of pain for the hockey fan to not see this country's very best in action,
2) for which, the complete and unanimous responsibility lies with Hockey India. The games, the machinations, the insinuations and behind-the-scenes actions left those who care with no doubt as to how arbitrary its actions can be/are. It also reinforced my beliefs that hockey players care only about an Olympic medal, not even a World Cup win matters more. There are many historical/legacy reasons for this first among equals syndrome, not to mention the etched-in-gold tale of Indian hockey at the Olympics.
3) There was enough money in the kitty and some of the overnight richie riches (duly deserved, of course!) are going to be plain confused and retiring, or more striven to win more. There are no middle grounds in how this money will impact the players. For the record, this is the biggest prize money event in the hockey world, let alone in India. And Indian players sitting at home due to the fiats of Hockey India are not going to remain silent in the post-Olympic scenario where the world comes to an end not till 2016. And if India does win a hockey medal (on which, I am willing to take some early bets!), the players shall rule the popular/public's attention span for far longer than the World Cup winning Indian cricket team did.
4) Either Hockey India creates its own version of WSH and set the ball rolling before the 2013 version of WSH, or Hockey India is going to implode due to the public furore of suspensions, resignations, walkouts and dropouts of the mainstream Indian team. In one swift move, Hockey India faces a do-or-die battle that even Shri. Ajay Maken's best efforts could not resolve. This was essentially the same calamity that BCCI faced when the infamous ICL ruled the early roost over IPL. But the BCCI administrators are sensible businessmen with a nose for money and common sense. Unfortunately, Hockey India is known more for its riff-raff than common sense or administration skills (a phrase that goes for far longer in the hockey community as the 1964 Gold does, to be charitable!).
5) That said, by its own self-contradictory definition, WSH cannot sustain itself without some serious ways in which the mainstream Indian talent can be co-opted into its fold. Either it disbands its union with the IHF and seeks a truce with HI and the FIH (for which Bridgestone has to talk with FIH with money on the table), or WSH renders HI and FIH pointless by a public furore and stings which are easily plantable (like the one that was forced upon the nefarious and thankfully forgotten K. Jyothikumaran).

6) That brings us to the stars of the event: Gurjinder Singh (Linky), all of 18 years and a future Sandeep Singh in the making can be safely said to be the find of the tournament. Other finds of the tournament include Vikramjeet Singh (24 years - Linky), and Gurpreet Singh (26 years - Linky). Among veterans, Prabhjot Singh (31 years) who has not been in the Indian hockey matrix since the days of Jose Brasa, the fallout in Canada and the middle-finger gesture in the World Cup and Deepak Thakur (31 years) did pretty well to have folks get behind them in calling for Mike Nobbs' attention. Roshan Minz (25 years - Linky) and Adam Sinclair (28 years), though not old by any means, are veterans by stature and also get to be in the top 48 to have a chance to reclaim their place in the top 15/18. Maninder Singh Wallia has a take on other stars of the event at Linky. While Len Aiyappa had a great event, he is not in contention for the Indian team and that makes it a sad tale of talent lost prematurely in the bygone era under the sacred tutelage of Hockey India and its precursor, the Indian Hockey Federation. It makes some coaches and administrators criminals and some of them less wiser in hindsight than otherwise.
7) It is a typical commentary on the drag-flick and its impact on the world game that three of the coming stars (Gurpreet, Gurjinder and Vikramjeet) are drag-flickers, who got inspired by the stable of Baljit Singh Dhillon, Jugraj Singh and Sandeep Singh. In terms of defence, which we sorely need and lack a certain depth of, contenders include Ajmer Singh and Damandeep Singh.
8) Diwakar Ram was ruled out before the event due to injury and will be ruing another opportunity gone a-begging. Rajpal Singh and Arjun Halappa would like to call the event a flop given their high standards. Karan Bhaskaran (son of Coach Vasudevan, Linky) and Devender Walmiki faded out in the second half. Comeback star Gagan Ajit Singh must have felt that the game has changed since he left a few years back.

9) At the end of the event, Coach Rajinder Singh was heard saying, "I am still one of the very best!" And rightly so. Former junior coach Harendra Singh and Jude Felix (who interviewed for the spot that Mike Nobbs now holds) will also feel a need to be happy. In a jiffy, we now have four back-up possibilities including the Pakistan bound Ramandeep Singh. The sour note must indeed be felt by Mukesh Kumar and the completely forgotten Shri. M.K. Kaushik. The pool of quality umpires that India has is definitely bound to increase and the story of not sending enough technical delegates/umpires to world events could be a past.
10) Coach Mike Nobbs will have to seriously consider some backroom diplomacy that can bring the "fallouts" into the Indian picture again. The time-out on Prabhjot Singh has to end for Prabhjot is too big a name to be kept out for too long. Deepak Thakur, Adam Sinclair, Roshan Minz -- the names that need reconsideration are long as pointed out earlier. As Coach, Mike Nobbs rules the roost and while noone expects him to do a Greg Chappel, noone expects him to do a Gerard Rach (if you remember him!) either.
11) The last semi-finalist was not spotted till the last match of the league phase as the Imran Warsi led Chennai Cheetahs caught a Klusener bug. While on the one hand, that could mean that four awful teams were not around, a look at the Points Table also shows that Chandigarh Comets and Sher-e-Punjab are a cut above the rest (even if Chandigarh did nt enter the finals). In other words, there is first Punjab in hockey and then the rest. Meanwhile, the hockey center of Karnataka, Orissa and increasingly Bombay and the Northeast will debate this statement endlessly and I am not too unhappy seeing a contender rise as that means more depth in the charts, which we sorely need. In terms of hockey academies, Sansarpur had one famous contender whereas Panposh had one other star contender in the mix (to my best checking), the rest came from all over the place. This is not alarming, nor is it a joyous occasion, but just a data-point that needs further observation.
12) We saw eight well-maintained stadia in different corners of the country and we saw more people streaming in towards the end phase of the event. Whether these stadia will be kept in such great condition or whether these fans will return in the future are questions for which noone has a clear answer. While, in general, such philsophical questions have no unambiguous answers, the case of Indian media/public/administrators' attention to these matters is abysmal.
13) And the WSH taught a lesson or two to Hockey India and Indian Hockey Federation in running a professional webpage with social media connectivity. It is a crime to claim to be the official national sports federation and not have a ready list of entries on hockey in India for which both HI and IHF have to take a rap on the knuckles.

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