The Bronze medal win by the Indian men’s hockey team at the Tokyo Olympic Games, has galvanised the whole nation. For 41 years, India which was once a superpower in hockey had not been able to win any medal at the Olympics. So it was as if, after wandering for four decades in barren lands, Indian hockey had finally found a spring.
As soon as the match ended, social media came alive with excitement. Celebrities from the film world, politicians, sportspersons from all sports and sports lovers filled Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with congratulatory messages for the hockey stars. It was clear today, that although the long run of defeats had pushed the sport into the background, hockey had always been in the hearts of Indians and it needed just a spark to make that passion come alive again. That spark was provided by the nail biting victory over Germany this morning.
Seeking the viewpoint of experts, siasat.com spoke to two former Olympians. One is Indian team’s goalkeeper Alloysius Edwards who represented India at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and also played in 147 international matches in his career. He used to stand like a rock before the rampaging rival forwards and prevented them from scoring goals.
The other is N. Mukesh Kumar, the mercurial forward who was one of India’s greatest players in his heyday. When Mukesh was in full cry, the rival defenders were reduced to hapless spectators. Mukesh and Dhanraj Pillay were the most dangerous combination in the world.
Alloysius Edwards was ecstatic. “Today is a great day for Indian hockey. Destiny has at last smiled on us and we must go forward from here,” he said.
“The hockey setup should be thankful to the Odisha government which has sponsored the men’s and women’s hockey teams for the last 5 or 6 years. It made things much easier for all players. Chief Minister Patnaik has put Odisha on the world map of hockey.”
“The way our team played under pressure today against Germany was outstanding. To come from behind and defeat a champion team like Germany needs tremendous courage and self belief. I think this team is one of the best that I have seen in recent years,” he said.
“Goalkeeper Sreejesh was superb throughout the tournament. Whenever the ball was high, nobody could beat him. But I felt that his ground saves could have been better. The normal reflex for a goalkeeper should be to stretch out his legs to stop the ball, not parry with his stick. So a little more practice would have made things perfect,” said Edwards who was himself an ace goalkeeper.
Mukesh Kumar was of the opinion that the Indian team’s coach Graham Reid of Australia deserved credit. “He made our boys adopt European style of play. Many coaches had earlier tried to do it but they had not succeeded. Reid has made this transition quite smoothly,” said Mukesh.
“He has also successfully introduced the concept of total hockey in the Indian team. In my time, when Dhanraj and I were playing, we used to play in designated positions. We were either wingers or centre forwards or halves. But now what we are seeing in the Indian team is total hockey. The players are adept at playing in any position. This can create confusion among the rivals and put added pressure on them,” explained Mukesh.
He too praised the efforts of the Odisha government in promoting hockey and acknowledged the benefits that Indian hockey had gained from the help. “I hope this is the beginning of a new era of Indian hockey. We must try to once again to regain our past glory when the whole world used to marvel at the deft stickwork and passing ability of Indian hockey players,” Mukesh concluded.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.