SPORT

Quality at a premium

HYDERABAD, MARCH 24. Quality has been at a premium in the league phase of the 61st senior National hockey championship for the Rangaswamy Cup but it terms of quantity it has been mind- boggling as 74 matches were played in the first one week alone. The minnows have been shown the exit and the real contest begins when the super league begins on Friday.

The eight winners from the knockout stage — Chandigarh, Bengal, Services, Uttar Pradesh, Indian Airlines, Indian Railways, Punjab, Karnataka — will be joined by the four institutional teams — Air India, Indian Oil Corporation, Punjab & Sind Bank, Namdharis — which booked their berths from the Delhi leg of the tournament. The top four in the super league qualify for the semifinals.

But for Tamil Nadu's exit there were very little surprises. The debate once again centred on whether it was time to change the format of the Nationals. Considering the logistics of an event featuring 37 teams in the league phase there are a few who feel it is time to have a serious re-look. There is a talk that the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) has decided to take a commitment from some of the teams playing here to host the next Nationals and then providing complete support in organising the event.

Some people have wondered why a format similar to cricket's Ranji Trophy involving Elite and Plate Groups could not be considered for hockey. That the Hyderabad Hockey Association has been forced to shift some of the super league matches to Gachibowli is proof of how taxing it can be on the host.

Biggest disappointment

The biggest disappoint, however, has been the dismal spectator response with empty stands greeting the players at all the three venues. "This is the worst thing for a player. Big crowds will always inspire the players to come up with much better performances," said Ashok Kumar, former great and son of the legendary Dhyan Chand.

For the players, the strain was discernible as they were forced to play in the scorching sun and the synthetic surface only compounded their woes.

However, players like Arjun Halappa, Samir Dad and former triple Olympian N. Mukesh Kumar don't find fault with the format. "Else," they said, "there is no way for lesser known State teams to get a chance to compete at the national level. If hockey, the national game, has to be promoted across the country, this is one of the best platforms," asserted Mukesh Kumar.

Atlanta Olympian, Edwards Alloysius, hinted that the timing of the matches could have been better planned instead of starting in blazing afternoon heat.

Meanwhile, the IHF has nominated Ajitpal Singh, Mukesh Kumar, Alloysius, M.P. Govinda and Moosa Bin Ibrahim of AP Police as talent scouts.

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