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Updated: April 9, 2014 18:44 IST

Hockey, then and now

K. KEERTHIVASAN
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DOWN MEMORY LANE Ashok Kumar Photo: R. Ragu
DOWN MEMORY LANE Ashok Kumar Photo: R. Ragu

Catching up with friends and former players during the recent junior men’s Nationals, Ashok Kumar, son of the legendary Dhyan Chand, had happy memories of the city but expressed concern about the future of the game in the country

For a photo-op, Ashok Kumar, fourth son of iconic hockey player Dhyan Chand, and a member of the Indian World Cup team that won the gold medal in 1975, borrows a hockey stick and dribbles. So quick and assured is his stick work that you wonder how it would have been during his heyday on the field.

Renewing ties

Meeting up with his old friends on the sidelines of the Hockey India-junior men’s National championship, Ashok relives those old days competing in Madras.

“The MCC, Chepauk and Egmore grounds,” Ashok lists the venues where he has played hockey. “Oh! Those were the days! The MCC tournament was fantastic; it was played on gravel. What hockey we used to play!”

The 63-year-old remembers the 1973 Test match against France (and then Poland) in Chennai. “I injured my face before the match against France. I played the tournament with a swollen face,” he recounts.

Enthusiastic crowd

Madras, according to Ashok, loved hockey and people came in droves to watch the sport. “Lots of memories, girls and boys used to come to watch us. It was fantastic,” he recalls.

Ashok fondly remembers Dhaya Kishan, then Secretary of the Indian Hockey Federation. “There would be paper strewn about his compact one-room office, and he had a parrot too. He served Indian hockey well, says Ashok. He also had a good word for S.M. Sait, then vice-president, IHF. “The game has been followed well here, since my father’s days,” he says.

Dhyan Chand, who was part of the Indian team that bagged three gold medals in three Olympics (1928, ’32 & ’36), was a private person, according to Ashok. “He was reserved. Being in the Army, he was not demonstrative of his affection to his seven sons. He worked hard throughout his life and was posted to Jhansi, Patiala, Delhi and Orissa. For most part of his life, he lived away from his family. He spent only the last years of his (2-3 years) life in Jhansi,” says Ashok.

Hockey has become commercialised and the players’ attitude to the game has changed, feels Ashok who is, at present, based in Bhopal as Technical Director of the Madhya Pradesh State Hockey Academy. “I am watching the boys. When they play the Hockey India league, they are spirited, putting their heart into the game. Why do they not show the same spirit when they play for the country? Earning money is all right. But it should not make the players lose sight of their main aim, which is to play for the country,” he says.

On foreign coaches

Ashok says foreign coaches have been with the Indian team for a long time, but are yet to achieve results that are significant. “Our coaches are not in any way inferior. They have wide knowledge. Earlier foreign coaches were called for their expertise. Now it is not so. They can be called for short periods of, say, three months or so. What is the use of the Dronacharya Award? Stop it. Give to the foreigners,” he says.

Does he like to coach the senior Indian team? “No”, he says. “It’s too late in my life to take on such a responsibility. It is not tiring because even now I work 7-8 hours a day on the ground. What we need is a sensible coach who has ideas to groom the players,” he says.

If Indian hockey wants to remain in the minds of its citizens, Ashok says it should get a medal of any hue either in the Commonwealth Games (Glasgow in July this year), or the Asian Games (Incheon, South Korea in September-October) or the men's World Cup (The Hague, The Netherlands in May-June).

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