A 'Chak De' year for Indian hockey

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/h/hockeyplayers.jpg' class='caption'> Down in the dumps for the past few years largely due to the spell of magic cast by Bollywood blockbuster 'Chak De! India.'

Updated: December 31, 2007 11:56 IST
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Down in the dumps for the past few years, Indian hockey trod the path of resurgence that coincided with the revival of its fan following, largely due to the spell of magic cast by Bollywood blockbuster 'Chak De! India.'

The script unfolded in a dramatic manner in the year that had inherited a battered image for the game due to poor handling of affairs by the national federation that was embroiled in controversies and a series of heart-rending flop shows by the Indian team in international fixtures.

Joaquim Carvalho came into the picture suddenly as another coach of the men's team but unlike his predecessors, he made the unexpected happen.

The Olympian used his acumen and skills as a coach and a shrewd thinker to win the confidence of the moody top brass of Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) and deliver the goods on the ground.

While the Sports Ministry downgraded the sport from priority list because of the ceaseless below par performances, Carvalho guided the Indian team, packed with young Turks, to podium finishes in all three tournaments they played this year.

Fitness and commitment were the only criteria to be in the national side while the exit door was open for those who rested on their laurels and boasted of their glorious past.

India defended their bronze in Azlan Shah Cup in Kuala Lumpur and again finished third at the Champions Challenge tournament in Boom, Belgium.

But, on the home turf in Chennai, they really excelled in the Asia Cup to get the better of teams like Korea, Pakistan, China and Malaysia and retain the continental title in style.

India's supremacy was so profound that it took by surprise its own federation, which announced a cash prize of Rs 1000 for each goal scored by the team in the Asia Cup.

Carvalho's boys scored goals like one gathers runs in cricket and pumped in 51 of them against the only five shot against them.

Carvalho not only plotted the rivals' downfall but also helped his wards snatch the recognition they deserved after the Asia Cup victory. The coach led the protest against the governments and corporate houses for ignoring the hockey stars while pampering the cricketers. It paid dividends in an unexpected manner with the accolades coming in thick and fast and the players becoming richer by lakhs of rupees.

In the meanwhile, 'Chak De! India' happened and gripped the whole nation. Loosely based on a glorious moment associated with Indian women's hockey team, the movie infused life into the sport by reviving the fans' interest in it.

The Shah Rukh Khan-starrier created such a euphoria that the International Hockey Federation (FIH) decided to use it for the promotion of the 2010 World Cup to be held in India.

Incidentally, the women team hardly had any such 'Chak De' moment. They fared poorly in a Test series against Japan and a tri-nation tournament and finished fourth in the Asia Cup before emerging champions in a four-nation meet at home.

Meanwhile, the appointment of Australian great Ric Charlesworth as Technical Advisor of Indian hockey came as a significant step towards the country's bid to regain its status among the elite.

The FIH convinced the powers that be in the sport in the country which resulted in the recruitment of super coach Charlesworth, who said "hockey needs India to survive and thrive".

On the domestic front, underdogs Orissa Steelers bagged the third edition of the path-breaking Premier Hockey League that has rendered the national championships needless.

Individually, two players hogged limelight because of their commitment and performance. While striker Prabhjot Singh scored as many as 15 goals in the Asia Cup to find his name among the nominees for FIH Player of the Year award, veteran defender Dilip Tirkey made it to the All Star team for the second time in a row.

Women's hockey finally got some prominence it deserved with the Arjuna award being conferred on seasoned forward and former skipper Jyoti Sunita Kullu.

Even though 2007 passed off on a brighter note for the sport, India need to fare even better next year when both the men's and women's teams face the uphill task of qualifying for the Beijing Olympics the ultimate platform for any athlete.

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