Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hockey Flicks and Flickers

As I write this, news has already come in that the Indian women's hockey team is out of the Olympics selection. We watched them a couple of days ago, defeating Italy 1-0 and entering the finals.

The stadium was not very full and we happened to be in the brawny rowdy section, the kind which thinks it is cool to stand up each time the ball reaches the D, so that no one behind them can see a thing. Well, thank goodness for the large screens and the fact that hockey is such a fast game that by the time the men (yes, they were all men!) managed to sit down, the ball was already elsewhere and visible.

There was a fingernail of a moon against the clear night sky and a bracing breeze. And we wondered why the tickets had been priced so high and why no discounts could be given, at least for school children. The prices were a little higher than what one would pay for a film (and actually, if one watched all six matches on a day, it was a good deal, but that was hardly practical). All the same, it was Friday evening in Delhi and - surely a few more people could have come to cheer India in the semi-finals.

There were predominantly Punjabis in the audience and, if India hadn't been such a large country, there would also have been a significant number of Coorgis. Hockey runs in the families of these two communities, one high up in the north and one nestled deep south.

This was the first time I heard the Italian and Polish anthems, and it was a very interesting contrast of music - the Indian, haunting as ever, describing the beauty of the land, the Italian, almost operatic and the Polish - spirited. Then we got down to the serious business of match viewing.

The Indian women's team certainly deserved to win as they managed to keep control of the ball most of the time. Unfortunately (and this is true of both the men and women's teams), we are unable to convert ball control into goals. The penalty corner rules skew things even more - it's much easier to score a goal through these means (especially when compared to games like football) than through the regular game, thus scores can change very rapidly. Well, we did win - just about.

The men's game was much swifter and surer and India won more convincingly. The fiery drag flicker Sandeep Singh scored 2 of the 4 goals (Indian defeated Poland 4-2). Sandeep Singh is much in the news, for being a penalty corner specialist and scoring 11 goals in the tournament so far. Michael Nobbs, the Australian coach, seems to have done the team a world of good. He has always maintained that France is the dark horse of this set of teams. The knockout finals happen this evening (India vs France), let's hope we manage to sustain our performance!
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