Less than a week is left for the hockey summit. When dawn breaks over the immaculately redesigned Dhyan Chand National Stadium on next Sunday, it is set to trigger a new era. The Hero Honda World Cup, hopefully, will cast aside the fret and fever of speculation that had reigned for over a year and half.
Eventful as the previous 11 editions has been, the second on Indian soil — after the Bombay edition in 1981-82 — comes as a venture that can be described as unprecedented in ways more than one. From Barcelona in 1971 to Monchengladbach in 2006, the ebb and flow of the sport envelops a chronicler in an emotional mélange.
To catalogue the history of the competition, that happily enhanced the profile of the game for nearly four decades, will be superfluous. Suffice it to say, the idea was floated in 1969 and became a reality on October 15, 1971 at Barcelona. The inaugural edition had to be shifted out of Lahore, prompted mainly by political developments that were inimical to India's participation.
Much water has flowed down the Indus since 1971. The concept gained acceptance as the years rolled by compelling the International Hockey Federation to devise and design means and modes to keep the World Cup as the epicentre of hockey world's collective consciousness.
The FIH succeeded in accomplishing it and competitive hockey enlarged the frontiers of its ethos. The credit goes to the players who made the game enormously attractive for the spectators and to the coaches, whose extraordinary inputs transformed the very character of the sport on artificial pitches. Of course, the role of the administrators in fine tuning the system to facilitate proper development in every aspect cannot be undervalued.
The game's progress cannot be buried in a valley of facts and figures. The depth and dimensions resulted from the marvellous men who wielded the stick in different decades to etch their names for posterity.
Tanvir Dar of Pakistan emerged as the hero of the first World Cup scoring the first goal and taking credit for a hat-trick. The indefatigable Dutchman, Ties Kruize, remains the only player to have figured six editions from 1971 to 1986.
Several have left a definite imprint. Every decade produced stars of stunning skills. Paul Litjens of the Netherlands comes to mind for gathering 26 goals in four appearances. He was a stalwart in the Seventies. The rise of the Aussies to the top of the podium in 1986 at Willesden was triggered largely by the ingenuity of the versatile Ric Charlesworth who made his debut in 1975.
The Pakistanis carved out a brilliant assembly line of strikers from the days of Khalid Mahmood and carried forward with the likes of Islahuddin, Shahnaz, and Hassan Sardar, down to the Nineties, when Shahbaz Ahmed dominated the scene without a peer.
The amalgam of aesthetics and athleticism brought displayed Pakistan four trophy triumphs — two in the Seventies (1971, 1978), one in the next decade (1982) and one more, at Sydney (1994).
The Dutch pitched in whenever Pakistanis sagged. Their three cup victories — 1973, 1990 and 1998 — are a shining testimony to their proficiency and professionalism. They were the masters in the art of converting penalty corners; from the Litjens-Ties combination to Floris Bovelander and currently to the lethal flicker flicker, Taeke Taekema.
For all the perfection in their plans and preparations, the Germans could not court success till the 10th edition at Kuala Lumpur in 2002. They showed the resilience to retain the title before the home crowd in 2006 under the leadership of the towering Florian Kunz.
Poignantly, India has just one success to recall. That finest hour surfaced in 1975 at Kuala Lumpur when Ashok Kumar slotted the all important goal against Pakistan. Even after 35 years the Indian fans live in that fantastic moment dreaming for another podium finish.
India's record on artificial pitches is dismal. World Cup was staged on a synthetic pitch for the first time in 1986 at Willesden.
The feat achieved by Ajitpal Singh and his valiant men continues to be the only positive talking point. But one wonders for how long?