| Sohail Abbas bowed out with grace and dignity
Looking back on the year, using the benefit of experience and hindsight, I reiterate my belief. For the last couple of decades we have been, inherently, no better than fifth to seventh in the world. Let's accept that as true. Because if we do, we will have a realistic plinth to build on. Let's understand a simple truism: we aren't in the Dhyan Chand days any more. Those days are history. A very glorious history no doubt, but history nevertheless.
The problem is that we Indians have done little with our national sport that will enable us to enjoy the respect of the world while looking back in awe at the same time.
We have done nothing to sustain it. We cannot keep feeling good and on top of the world and behave as if we remain the original teachers of the game. I personally see a comparison in the British Isles, where almost all modern sport were invented. All the initiative seems to have been taken away from them today.
What we never thought was that with the change of circumstances ' rules, playing surfaces, playing conditions ' the students of yesterday would be today's masters.
I'll have to say this straight. We have to start from scratch. Time has come, following a rather dismal two decades or more, for us to realise where exactly we stand and let us not go into tournaments any more talking about golds and silvers. Let us talk about semi-final berths instead. That would be more realistic.
We need the humility to start all over again. Because we must.
Also, I have felt that these Indian teams of the last few years have been capable of beating any top team of the world on their day, but have never been capable of winning any tournament. Winning a tournament is a different ballgame. You have to be consistently good. I don't think we are good enough to beat, in a tournament, teams like Germany, Holland, Australia and Spain and keep proving ourselves consistently to the title. Let us accept that. We aren't that, with the current crop of players and the team they make.
It is from this acceptance and this realistic backdrop that we can build to a position of strength. For that we need a comprehensive coaching strategy, not only to mould the current players but also the next lot for the next four years.
Unfortunately, we have always aimed at the next tournament and looked for a magical result. And the coach is always the sacrificial goat every time the team does badly. He pays the penalty. It's not just the IHF, but the reaction of the whole country. This is a visible psyche of our sub-continent. See what is happening with the Pakistan cricket team; with one bad loss in Australia all hell has broken loose.
With whatever good or bad intentions, the timing of the sacking of the coach and the installation of a new one before the Athens Olympic Games, in hindsight, was not a correct decision.
Regarding the non-inclusion of certain senior players of our country, the superstars, I would like to mention two recent announcements. Two of the greatest players the world has seen of late ' Pakistan's world record-holder Sohail Abbas and skipper Waseem Ahmed ' announced their retirement from international hockey. The point to note is the grace and dignity with which they did it, while at the peak of their careers. I believe they are still good enough to play another few years. They have said that they want the youngsters to come in while their services are still available to the national cause.
It is that old adage about retirement of star: 'Go while people are saying 'why', and not when they are saying 'why not'
A top player should always go out on his own terms. I can say this with pride, because I had announced my retirement after the 1969 Ernakulam nationals, when I was still India's captain. A team was selected to go to Pakistan with myself as captain, the late Udham Singh as coach and R.S. Bhola as manager. The day after the announcement I called a press conference and announced my retirement from international hockey.
Subsequently the then IHF president Ashwini Kumar ' who later became vice-president of the IOC ' requested me to again join the team for 1972 Munich Olympics, but I refused.
What I am happy about is that the IHF is seriously thinking about getting the credentials of many foreign coaches and I hope that a suitable, knowledgeable coach is available. Say, a coach like Rick Charlesworth, whose credentials are beyond question, and who it seems from his statements holds Indian hockey close to his hearts.
Also, remember that as hockey is being played in the world today Australia is probably the only nation which still conforms to the 2-3-5 formation of the Dhyan Chand era. Even India and Pakistan have tried a lot of modifications and a lot of systems. But not only have the Aussies mostly kept to the original 2-3-5 system, they have adapted that to astroturf. The results may not be have been bombastic ' they should have won more times ' but they have been playing top class hockey for the last 25 years.
They have been unlucky not have been able to win the Olympic gold till this year, but that's plain unlucky, not lack of playing ability. The Aussies have not fallen into the European-style trap, though we can see that the Aussies are super fit, which probably no Indian and Pakistani player can ever think of being.
| India need stars like Pargat Singh
The best idea seems to me is a mix and match of true Indian style hockey and long, quick passes and counter-attacks. An Australian will be able to teach us best.
The other thing, regarding astroturf, is the Holland factor, as well as Spain. We should look at them and learn. We need far more astroturfs in India. We need the juniors to grow up on astroturf. There is no alternative to that.
At this stage we are missing the natural flair and ability of the former Indian players.
The last few players I can think of are probably Ashok Kumar, Ajit Pal Singh, Pargat Singh, Mohammed Shahid, Dhanraj Pillay' What Indian need today are stars like these. Pakistan have time and again produced many like Shahbaaz, Islauddin, Samiullah, Aktar Rasool' We should not curb our natural flair. That is our basic capital.
I hope that, as I have said earlier, we build for the next four years. I hope in 2005 we are able to show some results, but even if it doesn't come I won't be unhappy. I'd hope we are positively building towards a brighter future.