Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sandeep struggles to deliver under pressure, says chief national hockey selector BP Govinda

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The 2014 Men’s Hockey World Cup is just five weeks away and hockey fans will be harbouring the hope of a memorable showing by the national team. The weight of expectations can sometimes take its toll on the players, but national chief hockey selector Bilimoria Putaswamy Govinda – better known as BP Govinda – says things must be seen in the right perspective. “Look, you plant a tree and want to produce the fruits overnight, which will never happen. You got to nurture it, water in order to reap the fruits of it. The Indian team has shown marked improvement in recent times – we nearly beat Olympic champions Germany twice at the 2014 Hockey World League Final in New Delhi, but we have to show more consistency and inculcate the habit of beating top teams,” he says in an exclusive interview.

The 62-year-old former Indian forward – part of the famous 1975 World Cup-winning team in Kuala Lumpur, believes the Blueshirts have the wherewithal to put off a good performance in the World Cup. “I will be more than happy if we manage to finish fourth or fifth in the World Cup, anything above that or even a podium finish will be like an icing on the cake for us,” he opines.

The confabulation veers towards the team selection and up comes the topic of drag-flicker Sandeep Singh. Govinda, who played for India in the 1970, 1974 and 1978 Asian Games (India bagged a silver each time), believes Sandeep will find it hard to make it to the World Cup squad. “I’m not ruling him out, but it will not be easy to break into the final squad. There is no doubt that Sandeep is one of the world’s best drag-flickers, but we have often seen that he fails to deliver in crunch games. What’s the point in scoring hat-tricks against weaker teams and floundering against top teams when his side needs the most?
He also has to work on his defending skills, merely on the basis of his drag-flicking prowess he cannot walk into the side,” he makes his point abundantly clear.

The former Indian forward, who played in the 1972 Munich Olympics and 1976 Montreal Olympics, reckons the talent pool across the country has widened thanks to the Hero Hockey India League. “The Hero Hockey India League has come as the soothing balm for the sport in the country. Youngsters are getting to play with the world’s best at home – earlier teams had to be sent on foreign tours to give them such international exposure and the HIL is a great thing to have happened to Indian hockey for which Hockey India deserves a big pat on their back,” he remarked.

Govinda touches a pertinent point when he talks about the fundamental difference in the formative days of Indian youngsters and youngsters from countries the Netherlands, Australia and Germany. “The Dutch have more 600 astroturfs across the country, while in India we have about thirty-odd turfs. Youngsters there start playing on turfs, while our young kids begin on grass and then play on turfs. Indian youngsters have an opportunity to play on turfs once if they are part of the sub-junior or junior nationals. Age 13-14 is the muscle growing age of youngsters – this is where youngsters from Netherlands, Australia and Germany start playing on turfs at a young age unlike in India where our youngsters start playing on turfs at the age of 15-16 or even 17.”

There is a lingering feeling that hockey as a sport doesn’t have the money to attract youngsters, but Govinda doesn’t buy this line of thought. “I agree that hockey used to be a poor man’s game, but not anymore. There is money in hockey if you are good at it. Hockey India League is offering decent money to players for starters, which was not the case earlier. Players can play in foreign leagues and earn good money. Of course, if you try to compare with what our cricketers earn, it won’t be a fair comparison,” he quips.

He feels the mindset of parents also has to change if hockey talents are to emerge from every nook and corner of the country. “Rich families living in cities want their kids to play cricket and tennis as they are seen as glamour sports and not hockey, whereas those living in villages encourage kids to take up any sport. Parents have a role in encouraging youngsters to take up hockey since it is no more a poor man’s game,” he reasons.

The chairman of the national hockey selection committee believes the expensive nature of the hockey equipment makes it difficult for talented youngsters from villages to sustain their interest. “Hockey sticks could cost you anything between Rs8,000-20,000, while shoes (for astroturf) can cost you Rs 8,000-10,000 while a goalkeeper’s equipment (gloves, helmet and pad together) cost you around Rs 80,000-90,000 or upwards. Quite often talented kids in villages give up the sport because they cannot sustain it –these are the kids who need support,” Govinda points out.

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