I watched a very keenly contested match between the Bangalore Hi-Fliers and Sher-e-Jallandhar in the Premier Hockey League(PHL) yesterday. While both sides squandered away quite a few good chances, I guess the forward line and the penalty corner conversion duo of Len Aiyappa and Sandeep Michael, from the Bangalore side would be pretty disappointed with their performance. As a result the turks from Punjab, did well to keep the Hi-Fliers at bay and eventually won the match thanks to a superb deciding strike from Prabhjot Singh, after the two teams had drawn level. I must say though that the Bangalore defence was amazingly effective. They had a simple game plan to keep the danger men from Sher-e-Jallandhar, Prabhjot Singh, Deepak Thakur and Gagan Ajit Singh marked, and at bay. In fact all K S Vinay did throughout the match, was stick around Gagan and as a result the fiery forward wasnt able to produce any magic for his side. One just wonders what the Hi-Fliers could have done had the forwards gone about their task with the same dedication as their comrades in the defence line. Tushar Khandekar for me, was the dissapointment of the day considering the number of chances that he missed when he was just inches away from the Jallandhar goalpost. I am sure Sher-e-Jallandhar would want to tighten up their defence for their next match.
I think the PHL is a step in the right direction if one wants to see the resurgence of hockey in the Indian sporting culture. For two decades, a bat and a ball have kept the nation in raptures and we have come to be a one-sport nation. Forget about Vishy Anand, he is now a resident of Spain. Forget Leander Paes, he is a resident Florida, USA. I am sure someone would want to point out Vijay Singh. But hey, lets get real! He aint even an Indian national! The only sportsmen of international stature that we produce seems to be in cricket. Yeah, yeah we have had Karnam Malleshwari-s, Jaspal Rana-s, Anjali Bhagwat-s, Anju Bobby George-s, Rajyavardhan Rathore-s and the list tends to be endless... But lets take a closer look. How consistent are these heroes? Are they crowd pullers? Do we have a sporting culture in our country just like they have in the USA where people go for an NBA game just the way we go for a weekend movie? Like England, or Germany where a football game is like a family outing? Like Brazil, like Australia, like China, like Russia. The sports a country plays greatly define its own character. As it turns out, we prefer watching a game that may or may not produce a result after being played for 5 consecutive days. Seems like us, doesnt it? To build the a nation of our dreams, a sporting culture, no matter how frivolous it might seem, needs to be nurtured. The PHL wont make miracles happen overnight. In fact, nothing might ever happen. But we still are giving ourselves a chance to enjoy sport and to make it popular across society. Someday you might just happen to see people wearing the Hyderabad Sultans and Maratha Warriors gear and walking into a packed stadium to watch a PHL match. Maybe someday, we will back our local teams just like people across in the USA back the New York Yankees. Just like people in England back Manchester United. Just like they in Germany back Bayern Munich. Just like folks in Spain back Real Madrid. Maybe I am a dreamer. Maybe, just maybe...someday my dreams...our dreams would come true. And India can once again be the unbeatable team in international hockey.
I think the PHL is right for many reasons. First and foremost, all PHL matches would be played on astro-turf, which acclimatises our players to the kind of surface they would encounter abroad. Also, we are in a position to identify 60 of our top players and have a pool of talent to pick from, based on current form. So someday we might be able to say goodbye to zonal politics, favoritism, and witch hunts. With a credible performance metric in place, we can ensure that only the best talent makes way into our national side. Also, the fact that there are quite a few foreign players around this time, and more expected the next time around, the arena is a lot more competitive and would resemble the contests in county cricket, the Italian Serie A, the Spanish League or the EPL. I believe that the reasons for Dutch supremacy in the world of hockey is simply because they host one of the most competitive hockey leagues in the world. I guess the fact that the IHF has been able to pull out something from the hat, could mean great things for Indian hockey. The PHL has an amazing format; made for TV and made for the crowds kind of entertainment. The fact that the game is played in four quarters instead of two halfs gives players time to recuperate and rethink their strategy every 17 and 1/2 minutes. Add to that the ability to take time-outs and you have teams going at each other at full blast, every few minutes. The game never loses its tempo and what you eventually get, is 90 minutes of entertaining, high-speed hockey. I wouldnt want to imagine that there can be anything more exciting than this. Yeah, seeing Michael Clarke on song maybe an alternate sight, but I am gonna put that sight back in the closet for now. PHL rulez d00d!!
While we are speaking of sport, I guess talking about India's past year's performance on the cricket field, from a statistical point of view wouldnt do much harm. I must say, while we were apalling in the one-dayers, our performances in tests, were right up there. We just lost 4 test matches, of which 3 losses were to the Aussies. Now think of it, we won 2 tests and lost 3 against the Aussies, which is an extremely good show, considering that no one else gave the Aussies as much competition. As far as the other one goes, that was against Pakistan, in our memorable series victory. I must say, that if we consider the kind of opponents we have faced in the previous calendar year, India has been the best test team in the world, second to Australia of course! The only worrying factor for me now happens to be the fact that all our stars would retire in a couple of years. Where are the replacements to the Ganguly-s, the Kumble-s, the Sachin-s, the Rahul-s come from? We hardly experiment with our team, and those coming in are hardly experimented with much. Maybe, we need to overhaul our domestic tournaments and allow foreign players to come in and play on quick, green wickets. Maybe we need to devise a proper rating system to rate our domestic players. Get a major like PWC to do it for you, and then use those metrics to quantitatively analyse performances and come to a consistent selection procedure. If we need to keep our position in the world of cricket safe, then we need to start thinking out of the box, before it is too late.