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India, Holland Resume Bilateral Meetings After 27 Years
04 Feb 2004 10:14

HYDERABAD, FEB. 3. That the Indian Hockey Federation and its Netherlands counterpart (KNHB) agreed to resume bilateral meetings after almost a generation — 27 years to be exact — is happy news for the aficianados in both the countries. The first of three Tests begins here on Thursday.

For Indian hockey, Holland, and Amsterdam in particular, has a very special and historical significance. For, it was in Amsterdam in 1928 that India proclaimed to the world the genius of the one and only Dhyan Chand at the Olympic Games. This was also the venue that triggered the epoch-making deeds of Indian hockey which since then has taken seven more Olympic gold medals.

Critics who watched the Indians in 1928 wondered whether the game could be played with such skill and artistry. "This is no longer the game of hockey. It is a juggling turn. It is splendid,'' said one writer. India beat Holland 3-0 in the final.

Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. But the happy partnership between the Dutch and the Indians continued. Statistics show that as many as 10 bilateral Test series have been played, the first being hosted in 1955 by the KNHB.

This was the time when the Dutch, nay, entire Europe was willing to learn from Indian hockey. Will anyone today believe that India beat Holland 9-0 in the International festival tournament held at Ahmedabad in 1962? But currently, of the total 75 matches played at all levels, India has the edge with 30 victories and 28 defeats, 17 remaining drawn.

Interestingly, India has hosted the Dutch squad in a series four times the last official series coming in 1977 when the home team won two and drew the rest. Statistically, in the 10 bilateral series, involving as many as 23 matches, India has won nine, drawn eight and lost six.

A nostalgic mood cannot mask the present day reality. Dutch hockey went through a renaissance in the early seventies after that momentous World Cup final against India at Amstelveen in 1973. The tie-breaker that broke the heart of the Indians is recounted with palpable passion even today. The advent of the synthetic pitch in 1976 and the subsequent focus on hitting penalty corners shifted the balance in favour of Europe.

The Dutch and the Germans benefited largely from these factors. Thies Kruize, who is now the manager of the Dutch team here, and Paul Litjens became legends in their country and carved out a new niche for the Netherlands.

A succession of outstanding players from Roderick Bowman down to Marc Delissen and Diepeveen, and from the versatile Jacques Brinkmann, Floris Bovelander, Stephen Veen to the current icon of world hockey, Teun de Nooijer, the Dutch were the masters of the game under the dynamic coaches like Hans Jorristsma and Roelant Oltmans.

In the nineties, the Netherlands surged through a golden phase taking the World Cup at Lahore, and anchoring gold medals in two successive Olympics-Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000). They retained the Champions Trophy after a brilliant display against the Aussies at Amstelveen in August. In the opening match, India led 3-0 till eight minutes before close but the Dutch not only managed to level score but win 4-3.

But today, Holland faces the embarrassment of being forced to qualify for defending the Olympic gold at Athens. The team is now preparing for the pre-Olympic tournament at Madrid and the current tour of India is part of that exercise. The hockey structure went through a spell of turbulence after the failure to make the grade from the European championship at Barcelona when the top stars protested against the handling of the team by the coach Joost Belaart. Despite the backing by the KNHB, Joost Belaart relinquished the post, and paradoxically perhaps, the Dutch pitched in for a foreign coach, Terry Walsh, of Australia.

It goes without saying now that both the contestants will derive immense benefit out of this bilateral series.


Article courtesy The Hindu

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