THE sudden downward slide of the subcontinent in hockey does not surprise those who know and understand the game. The causes are clear. India came down crashing a few years earlier. Pakistan survived for a short while because of superior style of play and the able leadership of Noor Khan.
Confusion is caused’ by those who take to writing about the sport but do not really understand it. Neither watching nor playing the game, creates an understanding. What does create an understanding of the game is watching, playing and coaching on different types of surfaces and in different conditions over many decades.
Majority of hockey writers have not played the game. They had, however, some opportunities of witnessing international games and have talked to players and coaches of various teams. They only have second hand knowledge of the game unsupported by experience.
The ascendency of the Europeans according to these “writers” is due to their style; let me strongly assert that the Asian hockey is certainly not the cause of the decline.
On the contrary, Asian hockey is a great asset, which has arrested the steep decline. Let’s try and point out the real causes.
Two important factors are to be borne in mind which is simple yet ignored by most sports writers who attribute the rise of teams from Europe and the fall of the Asians to difference in styles. They even advocate Asians to adopt European styles. These factors are:
(1) The difference between the reflexes of the Europeans and the Asians reflexes of the Asians which help in acquiring skill are sharper than those of the European who react move slowly and cannot match the agility of their Asian counterparts, who are superior in skill.
(2) Difference in size and physique: Europeans are bigger in size and stronger in physique than the Asians. Their strokes are more powerful than those of the Asians. They run faster than the Asians and are superior in the hit and run tactics.
After taking note of these factors let us now proceed to examine further. Change of rules in favor of Europeans.
The rules were so changed as to give advantage to size of the body and strength of physique over skill of the game. The “bully” in which the Asians, because of shaper reflexes, invariably retained” possession of the ball and the rollin which baffled the Europeans, were replaced by strokes in which Europeans excel. The scoop and the sliced stroke which were disallowed in older days have been legalized to help Europeans to eliminate midfield play and to dash at the goal with the ball falling from the scoop or trapping the ball descending from the sliced stroke by any run away forward.
It does not need any combined movement in which the Asians excel. The Asian forward used to advance with short diagonal passes, drawing the goalie out and push the ball easily into the empty goal. It was hockey in its true form and not a cousin of rugger and soccer into which it has been turned into by the new rules. The tragedy is that Brig. (Retd.) Atif of Pakistan did not bother to raise a dissenting finger when the change of rules was being discussed at the F.LH. Meeting. The F.1.H. Has involved the game to suit the Europeans. The late Rene Frank of Belgium was largely responsible for this. The striking circle was enlarged to help Europeans to penetrate it and to give more time to them to make a full throated shot at converting the penalty corner and also getting more space to stop opponents’ stroke when defending their goal from the penalty corner stroke. This did not give Asians any advantage because due to their sharpness they were quite comfortable with the small striking circle.
Thus, it seems its only wishful thinking that somebody will in future repeat the glory that players like Dhayan Chand brought to India. Asians should begin to exert more at future F.I.H. meetings if they are to keep the game of hockey in their grasp. Let us not be fooled by F.I.H. which says that every change in hockey is to make it a popular spectator sport. It’s late no doubt. But let’s put a stop here and no further. Hockey is not sport any more. It is something else.
Article extracted from this publication >> April 3, 1987