Monday, March 01, 2010

When beggars turned into kings for 70 minutes

By John Cheeran
On Sunday, it was a 'if wishes were horses moment' for Indian hockey team. It so turned out that beggars were kings at least for 70 minutes of the match against fierce rivals Pakistan in New Delhi, a city that was shaken by the footfalls of refugees in the wake of the vivisection of India.
Let's be honest.
No one, including the team's Spanish coach Jose Brasa, would have believed that India would whip Pakistan they way they did.
India not only dominated the match but scored four goals stamping their authority in no uncertain manner. For the record, I did not expect India to outperform their rivals. In fact I was prepared to watch India sink in after a flurry of well-intended thrusts into the D.
After fighting for their self-respect within the federation and country, Rajpal Singh and his co-conspirators had a tough task. Otherwise they would have been pilloried for their ‘bloody-mindedness’ for asking for what was their due.
To begin a World Cup campaign against Pakistan, that too at home, presents pressures that few can understand. Unlike cricket, which offers a chance for some players to stay above the team's downfall, in games such as hockey and football which calls for team effort at all stages of the game, there are not many escape routes.
On Sunday, it was pretty evident that Brasa had helped the boys to improve their basic skills such as trapping and passing the ball. Even in the matter of penalty corner conversions, not the strength of Indian sides in the past, there is a marked improvement.
For many Indians, the 12th World Cup got over the moment referee blew the whistle on the India-Pakistan game on Sunday. What happens in the remaining days is now merely academic. Indians have won it. Considering the animosity between the two nations in recent times, especially in the wake of 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, blasts in Pune, beheading of Sikhs in Pakistan, hunting down of Indians in Kabul and the botched talks between the foreign secretaries, only the utterly naive could miss the political significance of this classic encounter.
For supporters of India, the battle is over. But not for the Indian team. They have a lot to achieve in the days ahead to redeem the status of the game in this country. For that, they will have to make heavy inroads into the far better orgainsed defences of European teams and emerge as strong contenders for the World Cup.

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