India's men revive the art of hockey

The following article has been contributed by Frankie D'Cruz, Member of the FIH Media and Public Relations Committee and Secretary of the Asian Hockey Federation's identically-named committee.

India's men defeated Korea, 4-2 on penalty strokes after playing to a 1-1 draw in regulation, during the Bangkok, Asian Games (December 1998). By capturing gold, the Indian men's hockey team not only earned itself a guaranteed spot in the Sydney Olympic Games, it has resurected interest, excitement and enthusiasm for hockey in India, reports Frankie D'Cruz. For the ladies, it was Korea claiming the Asian Games title, defeating the Indian women, 2-1, in the final. India (men) and Korea (women) become the first countries to qualify for the Sydney Olympic Games, apart from the automatically qualified teams.

India's gold medal achievement at the Asian Games in Bangkok last December has renewed the enchantment and excitement that characterised Asian hockey during the 60s and 70s.

The flair, wizardry and creativity unleashed by the Indian sides during that period not only bewitched the fans and hockey connoisseurs, but also won them honours in the international arena.

With the advent of synthetic surfaces in the late '70s, the raw dribbling skills and bewildering stickwork of the Indians and also the Pakistanis were relegated to secondary armament. More suitable and effective on this playing surface, instead, were the use of the long ball and quick passing.

So while the Indians continued to dazzle the crowds throughout the 80s and 90s, they were unable to add to their trophy collection, which already included the 1975 World Cup and the 1966 Asian Games gold medal. Until now, that is.

India's Asian Games victory over South Korea has once again ignited the region and given hockey a major boost.

Incidentally, this tremendous surge of interest has been further fueled by the recent India-Pakistan test series pitting two similar teams celebrated for their silky skills. Pakistan convincingly won the series 6-3.

In Bangkok, however, it was a different story. The contrast between the Indian and Korean playing styles was palpable - South Korea showed a more methodical approach, while the Indians were more instinctive in nature.

India's hour of glory before a packed Queen Sirikit Stadium was also laced with all the emotions of a nation starved of hockey honours for too long. Their success was all the more sweet following a year in which they finished a disappointing 9th in the World Cup in Utrecht and failed to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.

But these painful episodes were quickly forgotten when they won the 4-2 on penalty strokes after being tied 1-1 in regulation time. No one could deny that India's win was deserved as they had also earlier beaten gold medal favourites South Korea 2-1 in a pool match.

While the entire team shone, the stars for India were goalkeeper Ashish Ballal, skipper Dhanraj Pillay, Baljit Singh Dhillon and pivot Sandeep Somesh.

Ballal, in particular, made two crucial saves during the final to turn the tide India's way while the team's forward line was simply irresistible. Pillay and Dhillon combined blinding speed and breathtaking stick skills to tear apart the well-coordinated South Korean defence.

In the end, they showed that the cherished old skills can just be as valuable today as they were in yesteryear.