India's humiliating loss to Pakistan in the final of the Champions Trophy in England on Sunday, June 18, was humiliating for many. However, the men in blue redeemed some prestige in the hockey game that they played against the arch-rivals in the same country on the same day by winning it 7-1. The rise of the 'step son' on the day the 'blue-eyed boy' was left in the ruins was a kind of turning the history around.
And it was for the better.
If we look back at history, hockey was the game India were dominant in till 1980. It was the year when India had won their last gold in the Olympics. The only time India had lifted the world cup in hockey was also five years ago.
The advent of the Astroturf and the stout Europeans made life increasingly difficult for the traditional Asian powerhouses, including India. On the top of it, the game was so ill-managed in the country that it steadily lost its significance and by the time the 2008 Olympics came, India did not even qualify for the finals. They got a chance in the 2012 edition but finished last.
The fall of hockey was facilitated by the rise of cricket, especially since 1983 when India won their first world cup in cricket. It was backed by the victory in the World Championship in Australia in 1985 in which India beat Pakistan in the finals.
Kapil with the WC; Shastri with the Audi... these scenes did a massive good to cricket
The spectre of the Indian cricketers taking a ride on Champion of Champions Ravi Shastri's Audi was something which was permanently embossed in the mind of the Indian middle class, which was still caged but could witness it on television.
These big successes coupled with the television's penetration into the drawing room gave cricket an emphatic push, making it the numero uno sport in India. Given the fact that cricket was played among only a few countries ensured that India was never going to face the threat in cricket as it did in hockey. The growing popularity of the one-day version, the immensely successful television revenue model and the arrival of a superstar in Sachin Tendulkar in another few years saw cricket only getting bigger and richer.
Just compared to that, hockey saw no more successes and fell behind gradually. It remained only a sport about which the old generation romanticised, just like the West Indians today do about their glorious past in cricket, while more and more talents went to cricket.
The story of hockey was in complete contrast to what had happened with cricket. In case of the former, the epicentre shifted towards countries like Australia, Germany and the Netherlands while in case of cricket, Asia started to wrest the control from the whites, thanks to the world cup victories of India in 1983 and Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the 1990s. India was particularly instrumental in turning around the tables in cricket, thanks to its gifted talents and also the rise of the BCCI as the world's richest sporting body and its influence in world cricket. The cricket administrators in India were no less significant than the actual players. In case of hockey, not all even knew who was running the game.
Hockey started to grow on lines of cricket
Things, however, started to change for hockey in 2016. It was not just on-pitch successes like winning silver in the Champions Trophy and gold in the Asian Champions Trophy as well as the junior world cup but also the elevation of former Hockey India chief Narinder Batra as the president of the International Hockey Federation as the first Indian and Asian which changed the script for Indian hockey. Just like in cricket, hockey, too, saw a decentralisation from the west towards Asia and the positive results in India's performance in the field in the year made it evident.
India's hockey acumen were marred by the mindset of denial – that of the fast-changing environment in which the game is played now.
Regionalism, groupism, charges of corruption, officials' apathy (remember Chak De India?) were also found to be reasons that seriously crippled the country's advancement in hockey. But like everything that only go up after touching the lowest ebb, the setting up of Hockey India which replaced the now-defunct Indian Hockey Federation in 2008 proved to be the game changer.
Top players became more regular in the scheme of things and foreign coaches were hired. It was akin to what happened in cricket as well. Under the coaching of foreign coaches like John Wright and Garry Kirsten, Indian cricket had also conquered great heights.
The coming of Dutchman Roelant Oltsman, the current head coach of India, proved to be particularly beneficial. It's not that his predecessors were successful in pushing Indian hockey forward but they certainly made an impact on the process that lifted Indian hockey. India, under Oltsman, has finally come out of the mindset of sticking to the old method of playing hockey and embraced the modern technologies and styles. The routing of Pakistan, another Asian powerhouse, made the progress evident.
The attitude in hockey is changing
More than anything, the attitude of Indian hockey is changing. In the sea of cricket supporters and the media's lopsided coverage, not many really have the idea and interest about the development India's hockey is making but that doesn't rule out the facts.
The 180-run loss to Pakistan was a blessing for hockey as both matches happened on the same day. And that the Indian hockey players were sporting black arm bands to show solidarity with the fallen Indian soldiers also imported the dose of nationalism which generally makes India's cricketers immortal.
Hockey is seeing a domestic tournament on the lines of the IPL and the coverage of the matches is telecast on television. Celebrities also chipped in to endorse the sport and things began to go cricket's way though there is still some distance hockey has to cover before it challenges cricket's supremacy in India's sporting world.
Once, cricket had eclipsed hockey in India. Now, it's time for hockey to take a historic revenge. And it will benefit us all Indians.