I was amused to hear the reader of a leading Indian news channel deploring the strange twist given to the title song of the film “Chak De India” (Come on India in Punjabi). The film was all about the revival of Indian hockey and the title song was also intended for the same purpose but as it turns out now, it’s been kidnapped by Indian cricket. Now, who made it possible? Ironically the lead actor of the film, Shah Rukh Khan is conspicuous by his presence in the cricket field every time India plays a big match and invariably the media latches on to “Chak De India”.
The same Shah Rukh Khan couldn’t spare 70 minutes to attend the final of the Asia Cup ’07 in Chennai when India won handsomely against highly rated South Korea. So what’s the big deal in shedding croc tears for the song being greedily taken away from hockey to be given to cricket after doing everything to ensure the latter? And for fans of Shah Rukh in the hockey fraternity, this is his sense of humility! Let’s face it, hockey has been used most unscrupulously by the Indian media at a time when the game just seems to be stuttering back to its elements in its homeland after its premier position as the country’s national game was junked. Nobody’s complaining about the stripping of this burdensome tag from hockey but at the same time nobody has been given the license to cheat and humiliate the sport. This country will have to make good for this.
The Indian hockey team has to realize that they play a different ball game where everything has been short circuited. It’s not the fault of this lot of players that they’re being treated in this manner today, even after retaining the Asia Cup ’07 quite comprehensively. Moreover the performance of this lot of players has proven another point which is that, it was not the fault of the earlier lot of players either that they did not do well in their time. In a game like hockey speed, skill, strength and stamina are basic prerequisites without which it would be impossible to play at the highest level. The South Koreans are known for their speed which has rattled the ‘physical’ teams like Australia and those from Europe. Well, in this tournament the Indians out-sped them twice to prove that the four Ss are not a problem here.
The fact that the Indian teams even during the lowest points over the last three decades have played good hockey at the highest level despite losing is a case in point. There’s not a single team in the world that doesn’t respect the abilities of the Indian team even if they’ve beaten them by comprehensive margins in the past. Let there be no doubt about the basic attributes of the Indian players and the fact that they start with a definite talent advantage over players from every other country except perhaps Pakistan. But as I’d mentioned, it’s not the physical aspect of the team that determines the outcome of a game but the strategy and planning. Joaquim Carvalho, the present Indian coach, has proven it beyond doubt. Now, in terms of marketability hockey can’t match international cricket which seems to have become the golden goose for the Indian media. But we all know that the market is all about segments and hockey too has its own market segment, a sample of which was in view during the Asia Cup ’07 in Chennai. However, where hockey has a distinct advantage over cricket is its domestic support base which is way ahead of cricket. It won’t be long before smart marketers sniff it and that’s when we’ll see the correction.
This is what Indian hockey should be playing for and not loose the momentum it seems to have finally got. With due regards to Mr. Carvalho and the achievements of his team their job still isn’t over and it isn’t time for them to get distracted by what’s happening in Indian cricket. Mr. Carvalho just has to look at the state of domestic cricket to realize the hollowness of this disproportionate euphemism. Intriguingly though, even the domestic cricketers are better off than our international hockey players. Hockey can’t grow or thrive top down like cricket but can grow the other way round which is the normal way – from bottom upward. Hockey’s fundamentals are perfect with respect to its captive audience and rural orientation. This is what sustains the game despite the treatment meted out to it and it’s simply wonderful that Mr. Carvalho emerged just on time to guide and build the team of the future.
There are very few people in this country who understand the game better than Mr. Carvalho at this point of time and I’m sure that in his wisdom he is also aware of the game’s market fundamentals. The correction is round the corner and when it happens, the Indian hockey establishment must be ready to fill in whatever space it gets and shouldn’t be caught napping. Mr. Carvalho and his bravehearts should just focus on their game and nothing else.