“We Have Potential, But Proper Planning & Training Is A Must” — Hockey legend Keshav Dutt
We know that hockey is our national game, but we have very little general knowledge about hockey in India. Moreover, we don’t have time to watch hockey on our television sets or in stadium. On the other hand, cricket always catches our attention because of its glittery presentation whether it be T-20, IPL or any one day match.
We saw a cricket match in the film “Lagaan”, where winning was all about sentiments, not just about scoring. But this really happened. If we look back in our history, we will find it was not cricket but hockey. It was a tense afternoon in 1948; India had just acquired the status of an independent nation. England had just defeated Pakistan and it was obvious they would take away the Olympic gold in the final as they were to compete with India, the country they had ruled for nearly 200 years. To witness the event the Queen with entire royal family was there in the stadium. As the match started the Indian team seemed to be at the back foot as against their English competitors. But as the match progressed Indian players started to chase the ball and were successful in netting the ball and after a tense tug-of-war finally Indian team came out successful. It was a historic moment for a country to defeat their masters of years in their land by snatching away the Olympic Gold.
The whole of England was upset including the royal family, because of this defeat, but it was a great moment for Indians in England and also in India. Many of us hardly know about this glorious history of Indian hockey. To know many more anecdotes from the history of the game and in search for the solution to change the present scenario of Indian hockey, Joydeep Dasgupta met one of the heroes of the winning team of 1948, Keshav Dutt and interviewed him. The 87-year-old Olympian was also part of the gold medal winning teams in London 1948 and Helsinki 1952. Following are the excerpts of the interview.
What was the feeling when you won over England in 1948, in their land, achieving Olympic Gold for India?
Pakistan had lost the match with England by 2 goals a day before. England thought as India and Pakistan were same type of country, they had already defeated Pakistan so it won’t be difficult to defeat India. They were in high esteem, to witness our defeat, even the Queen and her family came to the match. A whole box was reserved specially for the royal family, all Indians in England were also there in the stadium. Finally we won the match defeating England by 4 goals. It was not just a victory, it was a victory over a nation who has ruled us for years and we have defeated them in their own land. When the winning medal was given to all of us, tears started rolling from my eyes, I can’t hold them. It was the tear of joy. After Independence it was our first Olympic as an Independent nation and we won gold. There were celebrations everywhere. It was the most memorable day of my life.
How do you feel now when you hear about the sorry state of Indian hockey—not being able to qualify for the Olympics, struggling to qualify for the World Cup?
India has won gold in earlier days. It became a phenomenon for India hockey then to win. But gradually we declined in performance. People have high expectation from us although England, Holand, Ceylon were also good teams. But things changed with time, as the rules changed and the playground too. Now grass grounds were replaced by astro turfs. In astro turfs balls move very fast. In India we have limited astro turf grounds, here first the players play in grass and only after selection they are made to play in astro turfs, this makes a big difference. Many of our good players could not perform because of this. In India the people don’t have proper planning, we lack farsightedness. Europe is far ahead of us, because they have money for hockey, good and visionary people are there to think and also astro turfs.
What was you thinking on the day you found out that India had failed to qualify for the Olympics losing their match against England in Chile in 2007?
In Indian Hockey Federation, they fight with each other. If they fight with each other, it will certainly affect the players and their performance in the match. We need to invest money on hockey, proper planning is needed and a good responsible person is needed to lead the whole affair who can identify the strength and weakness both and bring in change in the system. In our time if someone was little weak, we used to cover him up. Everyone is not equal. Now the players fight with each other. There is no unity in the team. In a such situation how can we win?
Once again India is on the brink of losing their national sport in the World Cup. How do you feel about that?
We need people in the administration and on ground who can understand players’ psychology. Replacing old ones with new players is not the solution. We need to understand and identify the potential of each player and polish them accordingly.
Do you think India has the potential to bring back the glory days of hockey?
No doubt Indian hockey team has potential but for this we need to change many things. First of all grounds, astro turfs are needed and replace grass ground. Holand plays fast hockey, they hold, keep and then pass the ball but Indian team still keeps balls and grabbles for minutes then passes that’s why we fail. Bringing coach from outside also makes no difference. They speak English which many of our hockey players don’t understand. Where communication is a constraint, nothing happens. There are many minute details in hockey. We have potential but proper planning and training is a must.
The Hockey India League has lifted the stature of domestic hockey in the country. Players are now seeing money and career prospects in the national game. What do you think this success reflects in the national team?
Like in cricket, investment in hockey is also needed. Slowly the interest in hockey is going away from people’s mind. Parents also encourage their children to take up cricket bypassing hockey because there is career, money in cricket. Now see Kohli, who is just a 21 year old and has earned so much. Cricket has money, hockey does not. Even if you keep 5 rupees ticket for a hockey match, no one is interested to attend. In India there is no one to market hockey. It needs to be marketed and investment is a must. Only big talks will do nothing.
What is your expectation from Indian Hockey?
I have high expectation from Indian Hockey. We need to select young talents, include astro turfs as ground for hockey for initial days of practice. Recruit people who understand the game and who can understand the players, who can identify the players with potential and then invest on such players. Keep the morale and psychology of players always high. Only talks will do nothing. Many things need to be changed. I am hopeful that Indian hockey team will again shine like Dhyan Chand’s time and again one day it can be world champion in hockey.