When India last hosted the World Cup 28 years ago in Mumbai, it was among the top hockey-playing nations of the world. After winning the World Cup in 1975 in Kuala Lumpur, India were expected to do much better than they did — a fifth-position finish at the last international event to be played on grass.
Another World Cup will be held here (Feb 28-March 13), this time at the newly-renovated Major Dhyanchand National stadium, encompassing 36 acres in the heart of New Delhi. A coincidence, the 1982 World Cup was played 10 months before the New Delhi Asian Games and the 2010 Cup comes seven months before the Commonwealth Games.
The Indians got the bashing of their life in the Asian Games playing on the newly-laid synthetic turf, losing to Pakistan 1-7, triggering their downslide in world hockey. Pakistan had already won the World Cup in Mumbai — their third win in four outings.
But even Pakistan started on a downslide immediately after the Asian Games. In the next World Cup at London, India came last, losing to Pakistan in the classification match for the last two positions.
Pakistan bucked the trend again by playing in the 1990 final in their backyard Lahore and winning the Cup four years later in Sydney, beating the Dutch in the tiebreaker.
India, too, had their best showing at a World Cup after 1975, finishing fifth. In 1998, Pakistan slid to fifth but India went hurtling to ninth. In the last two Cups, India were 10th and 11th while Pakistan were fifth and sixth as Germany won the cup, both at Kuala Lumpur and at home at Mengladbach.
As the world’s 12 top nations get ready to converge in the Indian capital next month, the question asked is: Will the artistry of the game triumph over the crude monkeyshines of the Indian hockey officialdom? Will the Indians be able to produce their best at home?
Hockey aficionados have no doubt that the fare will be excellent what with Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, Spain and (South) Korea in the fray, but they feel the Indians may struggle to catch up with the best in business, notwithstanding the home advantage.
The Indians seem to have lost the skills to synthetic turf and are struggling to adjust to the skills of speed hockey, invariably not being able to last out 70 minutes.
Germany, who are also the Beijing Olympic gold medal winners, will be aiming to become the first team to make it a hat-trick of World Cups. Champions Trophy winners Australia, who lost to Germany in the last two Cup finals, will be out to stop them.
Beijing Olympics silver medallists Spain have a cent per cent winning record in qualifying for the championships. Korea have taken rapid strides in the last few years, having made the debut only in 1994. And you can never write off four times World Champions Pakistan.
Interestingly, India are placed alongside Pakistan in the same group and the two fiercest rivals will turn back the clock when they meet on the very first day of the tournament under floodlights.
Indian coach Jose Brasa will also have his fingers crossed as his methods of training for the last one year will be on test.
Brasa would be expecting that the unity the team has shown in fighting with the HI would reflect on the field as well.
“There is no doubt that the players are talented. And more importantly they are a fighting bunch prepared to give everything for the country,” Brasa vouched for his boys.
“The World Cup is a major event and we will have to be realistic about our chances. But, yes, the team has shown progress in the last one year and that is a positive sign,” he said.