Sunday, September 30, 2007

KTWV 08 Issue 34: Two faces of sport in India

Posted on my Jacob's Blog, the Mumbai Cathedralites Seventh Heaven Blog and the Delhi Stephanians Kooler Talk Blog.

Cathedral School Hockey side in 1959:
I am the goalkeeper!

I have always been a hockey player and enthusiast.

(My interest in hockey, especially to be a hockey goalkeeper started in 1952-53 when I was a 10 year old living in Bangalore. I used to live opposite the St, Joseph College Hostel and sports grounds.I had many friends studying in the college. One was a guy called Abe Tharakan. He was the hockey goalkeeper for the college. I used to watch the team train and watched all their games. Abe inspired me to take up the game and the position of goalkeeper after I moved to Bombay in 1954. Today, Abe and I are good friends and he runs a popular blog Song of the Waves - I repaid him by bringing him into the world of blogging at which he has become a real expert and writes beautifully!)

I played for the First XI of the school for two years. I played for St. Stephen's College, Delhi, till injury cut short my further prospects to play for the College, the University and higher. When I played for the College, I played alongside some of the future greats of Indian Hockey, with Arun Shourie as my Captain.

In London, I played for my college and then played in the trials for London University. Injury again kept me from progressing my hockey career.

Shrewsbury Town Hockey Team:
I am fourth from left.

Then when I started my professional career in Plastics at Shawbury Village near Shrewsbury Town, I played for the Town team regularly, first in my preferred spot in the goal and then as the centre half in the line up.

I loved to play hockey. Though I wanted to see good hockey, I never got to watch it on TV as it has never been a popular spectator sport to merit much TV time.

I love football equally, and though I played it at school, I never progressed much, as my love for hockey was over-powering. However, as it was on TV in England, I watched a lot of it and learnt much about strategy and the game from the hours spent in front of the box. The real highlight was watching such greats as the Portuguese wizard Eusebio and the Brazilian Pele along with the English household names of Bobby More and Charlton, with England winning the World Cup in 1966.

I used much of what I learnt of the sport from watching the best players on TV to help me manage youngsters getting into the sport. I became a master of strategy in a game that I hardly played, even though, if I had played, I would have progressed as far as I did in the sport of my choice.

I played many other sports as table tennis, badminton (right up to the age of 55). I was active in athletics. I enjoyed TV coverage, however limited of each of these sports. My last sporting exploits was when I skied for the first time in my life at the age of 57 and finished the 20 km course tearing every ligament in my body. And then at the same age I raised a crew of long boat rowers to row the 30+ kilometers from Muhos to Oulu.

I enjoyed my gym training doing as much as 2 hours of intensive gym work to ensure all my muscles were kept fit and also helping me to solve serious problems with my back and also avoiding operations on my knees.

Now at 65, I keep fit by walking whenever I can, sometimes as much as 20 km keeping my pulse rate at as high as possible for my age - 140 to 150 pulse beats per minute!

My interest in cricket was generated by the excellent radio commentary that I used to listen to when I was just 7 to 8 years old. England playing against Australia and the Commentary broadcast by Radio Australia and BBC were the starting point, later followed by following the fortunes of the Indian Cricket team with stars such as Mushtaq Ali, Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare, Ghulam Ahmed, Polly Umrigar, S.P. Gupte, Bapu Nadkarni. And we had some good Indian Commentators too, but some exasperating ones, as well.

I did not liked watching cricket on TV as the sponsors hogged so much of time that I hated sitting through the irritating ads. However, when the International Cavaliers played the Sunday afternoon 40 overs, with great names as Sobers, Lloyd and others showing their unbelievable poweress with bat and ball, as well their superb fielding, and with NO ads intervening, I really took to watching ad free cricket on TV.

What I could, however, not understand was the super star status given to the Indian Cricket players. Yes, they may have been good players, and Kapil Dev's team winning the World Cup certainly gave the players the boost.

But considering that the Indian Hockey side dominated the Olympic and World Hockey agenda for generations, I could never understand why they were never given the super star status of the cricketing counterparts. It was no wonder that Indian Hockey sunk into the toilet.

This year was no exception. The Indian Cricket team won the Twenty20 Cricket Tournament and the whole of India and the politicians have been all rolling over to be seen with the cricketers.

In the same period the Indian Hockey side won the Asian Hockey Tournament against major rivals, and it was difficult to even find this mentioned in the headline news.

The news that the State Bank of India was doing something to correct this by giving each hockey player in the winning side $ 12,500 for the world beating performance was news, but in comparison to what has been showered on the cricketers, the air coverage time, the print space given to each sport, it really makes my heart sink.

India can quickly produce the best hockey players of the calibre of Dyanchand if it wants. It can beat other world sides if the Indian side was given only walking sticks to play with. But when the sport and its players are treated so shoddily, can we ever expect the Indian Team to ever become the real world class they are capable of being!

On a final note. the commercialisation of sport where one has to pay money to hear a cricket commentary between two country sides, unlike the time when I was a small boy, will only destroy the sport in the long run.

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