These are good times for Indian hockey. Tears were shed at the National Stadium. Tears of joy!
It was not quite the renaissance of hockey but the victory on Sunday meant a lot. It meant a world of difference for the game of the masses in a nation that once won the Olympic hockey gold as a matter of right.
And then came Indian hockey's darkest hour at Santiago, Chile in March 2008. The team failed to qualify for the Olympics. Hockey pride was restored to some extent at the venue named after its finest exponent, Dhyan Chand.
Ironically, Dhyan Chand's son, Ashok Kumar, was missing from the players' gallery. “I was not invited,” he said sadly. Not one complimentary ticket for Ashok Kumar and his family. His son bought tickets for the final while Ashok watched the match on television in far away Bhopal.
“The ghost of Chile has been exorcised,” said a gleeful Ashok, who scored India's lone goal in the 1975 World Cup final against Pakistan. It remains India's only World Cup title.
"Indian hockey has been in a standstill mode for four years now. I am sure this win will lead to better hockey, better recognition. Hockey will be in the news for all good reasons now. Of course, it is time to rejoice, but also time to introspect. How good are we and good can we be in the big league! Let us be optimistic and enjoy these moments,” gushed Ashok.
Mohammad Shahid, a classy forward, was delighted too but had a word of caution. “We have qualified. Great! But the bitter truth is now the road becomes rough and tough. It is nice that we have made it to London. If not, hockey would have died in India.” Hockey will live now and the vibrancy would be dictated by the team's exploits in the coming times.
The surging crowd, mostly jingoistic, may have failed to appreciate the good stuff that came from the opponents' sticks but then it had come to support a cause; to cheer the team on the road to London.
“This is only the first step,” Zafar Iqbal observed. And rightly too!
Zafar was a sprightly 24-year-old member of the team when India last won the Olympic gold at Moscow in 1980. He was shattered at the Chile debacle. “It was sad. But then it is also sad that we have been reduced to this state. Going to London is a sign of progress but not a ticket to glory. In the public perspective it was important for India to qualify but I find it difficult to accept that our yardstick to hockey glory lies in qualifying for the Olympics. There was a time when we went to the Olympics to win a medal. No doubt this result will boost the game's image. It will bring some joy to hockey lovers. I will only be happy if we finish among the top six in London.”
For Balbir Singh (Sr), triple gold medallist at Olympics, the scenes of celebrations at the National Stadium were a sharp contrast to the gloomy experience of four years ago in his Chandigarh home when he refused to eat. He was in a state of shock when told that India had failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics.
“I am at peace now,” the moist-eyed Balbir mumbled. Accompanied by grandson Kabir, the 88-year-old icon of Indian hockey, now frail and tired, insists on watching the game ‘live', in the company of hockey stalwarts in the players' gallery. Hockey and Olympics were so sweet when he was pursuing his dreams.
“I wish those days come back,” the grand veteran hoped. It can be the best gift this team can give to the hockey fraternity. Tough but worthy when achieved! Let the good times of hockey return.