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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Happy days are here again ~ India wins Jr World Cup in Hockey 2016

It is going to be a nerve-wracking day at Chepauk ~ after Karun Nair tryst with destiny – that 303* joining the elite club where  Virender Sehwag was a loner ! – some of us are following Tamil Nadu’s fortunes in Ranji as well.   Kaushik Gandhi's double ton and Vijay Shankar's century helped Tamil Nadu garner three points, owing to their first innings lead, and grab the third position in the points-table of Group A. BCCI has since announced the revised schedule – Semis are to be held in Rajkot and Nagpur respectively, with both matches starting on 1 January, 2017. QF Line up will be :

Hyderabad vs Mumbai in Raipur; . Karnataka vs Tamil Nadu in Visakhapatnam;  Gujarat vs Odisha in Jaipur  and  Haryana vs Jharkhand in Vadodara

None of the seven venues named for the knockouts is home for any of the eight teams that have qualified, ensuring that each match will be on completely neutral territory – a new experiment that the Indian cricket board has implemented for the 2016-17 season.  According to a  report, Ravichandran Ashwin and Murali Vijay have been picked by the Tamil Nadu team for the knockouts.

Just as we remember 25th June 1983, 29th July 1980 is a day to remember for Hockey fans – the day India won Gold in Men’s Hockey in Moscow Onlympics.  The team under  V Baskaran's leadership then, stood like a rock when Spain's rampaging Juan Amat had lurked the defence line in the last ten minutes as he almost pulled off parity.

Back home, this week, there was reason to celebrate as India played with intensity and imagination, seldom allowing their opponents any foothold in the match. The celebrations that ensued were understandably wild. Gurjant Singh would have lived the scenario several times in his dreams: a World Cup final, the crowd cheering him, and he beating the goalkeeper with a fierce hit. But even in his dreams, the 21-year-old wouldn’t have executed it with such precision. Varun Kumar, the scorer of India’s first goal in the junior World Cup, spotted an idle Gurjant near the Belgian ‘D’. You could have forgiven the European side for assuming it was harmless to leave Gurjant unmarked. It isn’t India’s style, after all, to play long, aerial balls. But this Indian style has ditched several old ways. And the Belgians would realize that the hard way. That Varun dared to play the lobbed ball – that travelled half the length of the field from right to left – was a surprise in itself. Belgian defenders were caught off guard and they failed to control it. Gurjant was the first to reach. He controlled the wobbling ball with the two deft touches and took it away from the defenders. To close Gurjant’s angle, Belgium goalkeeper Loic van Doren charged towards him. Gurjant looked up, saw the tournament’s best goalkeeper running towards him, then spotted faintest of gaps between him at the post, and from an acute angle, unleashed a reverse hit that flew past Van Doren.

It was one of the finest goals of the tournament, if not the finest. And it couldn’t have come at a more crucial moment. That goal, in the 8th  minute, changed how the final would be played.  India beat Belgium to be crowned as Champion. The 2016 Men's Hockey Junior World Cup was the 11th  edition of the Hockey Junior World Cup held in Lucknow, India from 8–18 December 2016.  It certainly was the hardwork and unity as a team that got them there – and there were many sacrifices too, writes Indian Express.

Harendra Singh, the team’s coach, days before the team left for its first tournament in 2014, received a call from his family informing him that his cousin – an Armyman – had sacrificed his life while fighting insurgents in Mizoram.   The Johor Cup in Malaysia in October 2014 was the first time Harendra had a proper assessment of his players. He had been appointed coach six months earlier, but they had been involved only in camps. This wasn’t the only tragic incident Harendra suffered as he prepared his bunch of world beaters. In December last year, as the team’s preparation entered its home stretch, Harendra’s son injured his right eye in a freak accident while playing football. His retina was damaged to such an extent that 80 per cent vision was lost in the eye. Others in the team too made sacrifices. Santa Singh, who started in the midfield in every match of the tournament, chose to skip his sister’s funeral last year while back-up goalkeeper Pathak did not travel to Nepal for his father’s last rites because he wanted to travel with the team for one of their most important exposure tournaments before the World Cup in July.

These incidents brought the team together, Harendra says. “We have a Whatsapp group so everyone gathered in the team meeting room within five minutes. And they would not let the player who suffered the loss stay alone even for a moment. Someone or the other was there to take care of him,” Harendra says. The coach himself focused on the emotional and psychological needs of the players, knowing well that these are the two key areas where Indian players had invariably faltered. In his first meeting with the players, he reminded them of the Sydney Olympics debacle, where India conceded a late goal against Poland to miss out on a semifinals berth.

Hockey fans should relisht he  golden moments of Indian hockey rather than recalling  that one humiliating loss killed the backbone taking away the fanfare and following for the game – that dark day of Dec 1982 when the whole Nation sat before TV sets watching Indo Pak game in the finals of Delhi Asiad – and sadly, team lost badly.  In the 1982 Asian Games final, India met with arch rivals Pakistan. Back then, hockey, like cricket later, was the symbol of Indian pride. In a country deprived of sporting glory, the legend of hockey was the perfect metaphor for a country trying to hold its head high on the world stage. Its stars, Zafar Iqbal and Mohammad Shahid, were extensions of India's honour.

         India raced to the finals, decimating every opponent by huge margins in the group stage, scoring 37 goals and conceding just one. The team's performance on home ground, the euphoria of holding a successful Games and of winning 13 gold medals, gave Indians the hope that a win in the hockey finals, by beating Pakistan, would be the crowning glory. It was not to be. After scoring the first goal through a penalty stroke and triggering raucous premature celebrations across the country, India lost 1-7 to Pakistan, whose forwards attacked the Indian half like a cavalry on a roll. The prime minister, stunned by the humiliation, left midway; fans started crying and the mood quickly turned funereal. That day, stoves were not lit in many Indian households.

Indian Express now adds that at Lucknow, it became obvious that Indians still love their hockey. On the day of the final, Lucknow's Dhyan Chand Stadium was spilling over with spectators. "It was a record turnout for a junior World Cup match, forcing the organisers to open sections of the stadium which were covered until Sunday, for the fear that everyone may not accommodated. They could’ve built a couple of more tiers and still run short of space to accommodate people." That Indian hockey is on the upswing is apparent. Over the past few years, the Indian team has eclipsed all its Asian rivals, racing ahead of Pakistan, demolishing Malaysia and South Korea, who after the highs of the 80s and the 90s appear to be in terminal decline.

The junior team's victory could well be the big-bang moment just as 1983 WC win was for Cricket.  This is a team that can dominate the kind of hockey that is played on astro-turf with its fast, relentless attacks that come in unending waves and score from unexpected angles and positions. The good news for Indian hockey is that some of these players would soon replace the ageing players in the senior team and give a new push to India's quest for glory.

Could we see the resurgence ~ Happy days are back again for Indian Hockey

Regards – S. Sampathkumar
20th Dec 2016.

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