Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Never-ending rivalry of India-Pakistan hockey matches

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Crowd support for a team in any sporting event can sometimes pan out to be a ‘big factor’ in deciding the final outcome. And when arch-rivals India and Pakistan lock horns on the hockey pitch, spectators of both countries go an ‘extra mile' in rooting for their respective teams. Indeed, India-Pakistan hockey rivalry never fails to capture the public imagination. It really does not matter what is the name of the tournament – it could be the Olympics, World Cup, FIH Champions Trophy, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, Asia Cup, Sultan Azlan Shah Cup or even the bilateral Test series – the rivalry remains cut-throat as ever.

Ever since India starting playing Pakistan on the international stage, expectations from the supporters of both countries have always remained sky-high. A win will be greeted with hero worship and unbridled adulation. Encomiums will be showered munificently on the players making them feel as if they are ‘special’. A defeat will cast a pall of gloom with the team being vilified to no end. Let alone flaying the team, the players will be castigated and the coaches will be given a mouthful across various mediums. Fate of some players and coaches are also sealed in such high-voltage encounters. What’s worse is that the rivalry would often translate into on-pitch unbecoming behaviour with players of both sides resorting to harsh tackles or fouls and also not losing out on a chance to give each other a mouthful caring a little about what colour of the card the umpire flashes. At times, spectators would get ugly at times, abusing the under-performing players.

As former India hockey captain Ashok Kumar – son of legendary Dhyan Chand – once said, the rivalry is strictly confined to on-pitch action. “Indian and Pakistan players are good friends off the pitch and not on it. It’s just that the intensity of an India-Pakistan game is much higher than any other game. People are extra pumped up for the occasion, ready to put their best foot forward.”

Clearly, there is a great deal of bonhomie among the Indian and Pakistan players and a clash is just a no-holds-barred contest and nothing more. Talking about fierce rivalry about these two teams, it is imperative to mention that Pakistan have always enjoyed their dominance over India – the Greenshirts have won most times over India and at the continental level, they hold the sway. India and Pakistan have met in the first six Asian Games hockey final and out of a total seven final meetings, the former have won only once losing the other six.
Even at the Asia Cup, it is Pakistan who have called the shots. India have met in four Asia Cup finals and again have won only once with Pakistan winning the first three Asia Cup finals on the trot.

India-Pakistan hockey matches are always watched with rapt attention and over the years both teams have engaged in some games that can be termed ‘memorable’, ‘controversial’, eye-catching’. We all remember the 1982 New Delhi Asiad final where India were humiliated by Pakistan in a 1-7 defeat in their own backyard. Only a year back, Pakistan had defeated India by the same margin in the Champions Trophy in Karachi. India also have chalked up some famous wins over Pakistan – the 5-4 win in the 1982 Champions Trophy in Amstelveen, where Rajinder Singh scored a fine hat-trick will remain etched in our memories. How one can forget India beating Pakistan 7-4 at the 2003 Champions Trophy in Amstelveen.

If Pakistan dominated India in eighties and nineties, India have turned over a new leaf in recent times. Barring a second-string Indian team’s 4-5 loss to Pakistan in the 2013 Asian Champions Trophy (the last India-Pakistan encounter), the Indians have beaten Pakistan thrice in four other recent clashes. At the 2013 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, India beat them 3-1 in the league phase before again pipping them 4-2 in the 5-6 place play-off tie. At the 2012 Asian Champions Trophy, India downed Pakistan 2-1 in the league stage before losing narrowly 4-5 to the same opponents in the final marred by poor umpiring resulting in strong protests from the former. At the 2010 Asiad, India also beat Pakistan 3-2 in the league stage, although it’s a different matter altogether that Pakistan went on to win the gold while India had to settle for the bronze.

India-Pakistan hockey matches have given us joy, but at the same time courted controversy. Say what you want, India-Pakistan games are always going to be crowd-pullers no matter what! The vociferous support of both teams will never ever die down.

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