The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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It’s time now to go beyond grass

Calcutta: Considering tradition and history, the Beighton Cup commands as much respect as any other hockey tournament in the world, but it has clearly fallen short in terms of standard and playing conditions.

Not too many marks for guessing that this state has been caused primarily by the inability of organisers to stage the tournament on astroturf instead of grass or any other artificial surface.

The Bengal Hockey Association (BHA) still maintains it is “trying its best” to lay an astroturf somewhere in the maidan. Even then, with the 108th Beighton Cup coming to an end, nobody seems to know when exactly will that materialise.

This is affecting the reputation and attraction of what used to be the country’s premier hockey tournament, feel players and coaches of the teams that played in the final Wednesday. They also think that with dwindling interest among top players, the level of competition is also coming down.

“We rarely play on grass. In fact I played on such a surface after six-seven years. Same is the case with my teammates,” said international Deepak Thakur of Indian Oil.

“The Beighton will lose attraction if it continues to be played on grass. Maybe that’s why many top players have stopped coming here.”

Thakur’s Indian Oil and Indian team colleague Prabhjot Singh had the same point to make. “We hardly have any experience of playing on grass. Our training and fitness programmes are all based on playing on artificial turf. It’s difficult for us to adjust on grass,” Prabhjot noted.

Kuljeet Singh, coach of champions BSF, Jalandhar, also felt the image and reputation of such a prestigious event may suffer a blow if it doesn’t switch to astroturfs. “This is a possibility. The top guns will lose interest,” said Kuljeet.

“The top players undergo muscle-building exercises keeping in mind the requirements on an artificial surface. It’s impossible for them to adjust to grass. I am surprised to see that a sports crazy city like Calcutta doesn’t have an astroturf. It doesn’t speak well of the quality of hockey in a place where it used to be quite popular,” the BSF coach felt.

Thakur also said that the balls used here are designed for grass and quite different from what they clobber on astroturfs. “That significantly changes the speed and nature of contact as far as today’s top players are concerned,” said the forward.

BHA secretary Gurbux Singh, who very much runs the show and ensures some top teams still come to Beighton, could not give any assurance on when the much-awaited astroturf would actually be laid.

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