By Saamir Askari
Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior editor, The Indian Economist
Fingers were pointed, and names were taken. Some called it a one-off instance, a blemish in what has otherwise been a decent run over the last few years, but what cannot be ignored is the fact that the Indian national cricket team is under more scrutiny than ever before. After a series of triumphs, most noticeably the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2011, the Men In Blue have been doomed to deliver. However, they find themselves mired in mediocrity, following the mass exodus of the Old Guard – Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Sehwag. It seems unlikely that the team will repeat its greatest achievement and win the World Cup next year, and while the Board strives to find solutions, one might start looking at other sports to bring our country some much-needed glory.
Well, look no further. We, at The Indian Economist, have done the work for you. After careful deliberation, and hours of weighing one sport against the other, we have found a sport that could replace cricket in the Indian heart (however hard that task may seem to be) and fill our collective soul with the passion it has missed. We have zeroed in on hockey.
Hockey in India has had a glorious past. Like many sports, the British passed it down to us as part of the colonial hangover we still experience today. However, unlike many sports, we picked it up quite easily. The name Dhyan Chand is still uttered with respect in the hallowed halls of hockey. Wizened men in empty stands still narrate the stories like they were yesterday’s headlines. And in more recent times, Zafar Iqbal lit up the world stage with his command of the game. We as a nation have always excelled at this sport, and this golden past of ours would help initiate an even better future.
Genetically speaking, Indians are strong contenders for being world champions at a game like hockey. It is a game that requires endurance and adequate strength – two qualities that we as Indians possess. Bred and fed on a prevalent system of subsistence agriculture, our bodies, over generations, have evolved to survive, nay thrive, on a bare minimum. The result of decades of poor produce and insufficient provisions is a lean body with slow twitch muscle fibres that is ideal for grueling games like hockey, which are played for long durations of time in harsh conditions. A lithe body like ours is perfect for bending constantly when striking the ball, more so for dribbling out of tight spaces. The common Indian has the foundation for the body of a hockey player, however to compete at the top, some aspects like upper body strength still need to be worked upon, which isn’t too hard a task.
Another reason why hockey can adequately replace cricket as India’s favourite pastime is because it already has an existing support base. Arguments can be made for the likes of football and tennis, but the glaring fact remains that people do not turn up in person to watch these sports in our country. I have been to international football fixtures and watched our national team play, and even when the tickets are as low as Rs. 20, you don’t find a crowd as feverish with excitement at the Ambedkar Stadium than you would right next door at Feroze Shah Kotla. Football still has a long way to go, both in terms of our ranking, as well as the support base, while hockey is a sport where you can find three different generations of a family in the stands. It’s a sport loved by everyone, and I’ve never found myself in a crowd as energetic as the one at the Commonwealth Games in 2010. I will always remember that final – while we were humiliated 8-0 by Australia, the crowd kept cheering on to the night. Well, at least until we were mistaken to be protestors by the Delhi Police…
India’s future in hockey shines bright as well. While we may have suffered setbacks when the likes of Dilip Tirkey and Arjun Halappa retired, and we now find ourselves 9th in the rankings, we still have emerging players like Sardar Singh and Mandeep Singh. All we need is a little push, in terms of match promotions and improvement in the players’ physical strength, for otherwise, we have all the qualities of being the best hockey side in the world.
Move over Dhoni & Co. The Men in Yellow are here.
Saamir is a student of Economics at Hindu College, Delhi University. He is a writer across various platforms, most noticeably as a playwright. Apart from having a keen interest in the political and economic affairs of the country, he spends most of his time either in a cold, dark room writing; or on a hot, vast track running. He can be contacted either via his blog (fosterthepapayas.tumblr.com), or through his email ([email protected]).