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HISTORY: W: Did Indian coach dig teams graveyard (7/16/2016)
--K. Arumugam
Moscow Olympics (W): Did Indian coach dig team’s graveyard? 5

Fortune called women’s hockey in 1980, Rupa Saini’s team got not only an Olympic entry, but also a lighter field due to infamous West boycott of Moscow Olympics. But the ladies let it go.

While reviewing the women’s Olympic tournament, World Hockey Magazine editor Patrick Rowley termed it as a ‘dreadfully disappointing’ event. It’s was more so for the Indian women.

undefined Indian women had everything in their favour to match their men – to win Olympic gold on their maiden entry. They had better competitive history than the other five teams in the fray. The players were far more experienced, and had gained entry long before others, which gave them enough time to prepare. Most other teams responded to Moscow’s panic call to see the event staged; personal interest and expertise of the then Indian IOC member, Ashwini Kumar, playing a steadying and stellar role, which we will dwell later on.

There was no inkling in the beginning that India would put up a flop show. But its often said that Indian girls would have got at least bronze but for their unwittingly coaching their rival!

Before going into the story, let us see the match sequence.

India had a dream start. It beat Austria 2-0 at the Young Friends stadium. Lorraine Fernandez and Rupa Saini struck a goal apiece in each half.

India posted a brace in each half without conceding any. It was a rout of Poland.

The third encounter was against Czechoslovakia. First half was even after Ida Hubackova cancelled out Prem Maya’s early goal. Alena Kyselicova scored the winner ten minutes before the close. This defeat seemed to have broken the spirit of India.

Still India was upto the task against Rhodesia, which has lately sported a new name Zimbabwe. The situation at that point of competition was interesting: Winner of that contest would ensure at least a medal. The wonderful match ended in a 1-1 draw. The contest was held on the polygrass sporting Dinamo Minor Area. Elizabeth Muriel Chase scored in the 45th minute and India equalised through Rupa five minutes later.

undefined Five of the six teams were in the hunt for three medals on the last day. Only Poland was out of it. India needed a win over the hosts USSR for a bronze, which was not to be. USSR took up serious hockey only two years earlier. They made it memorable (4-1). So, poor India.

May be but it was apt insofar as Indian ladies were concerned.

Veteran journalist late R. Sriman often used to tell me another story on India’s failure. He claimed that it was India who trained Zimbabwe, to their own misery! Might sound stunning, but listen to his point.

‘India comprehensively beat Zimbabwe 4-0 in a practice game before the start of the Olympics. In fact, the Zimbabwe coach, handsomely acknowledged her team’s indebtedness to India for not only having given them valuable match practice but also learning a lesson or two in tactics from the Indian coach. The story goes that after that trouncing Zimbabwe in the practice game, the Zimbabweans were told by the Indian coach that it did not pay to dribble in their own half but instead they should clear the ball hard and keep it as far as possible in the opposing half, hoping for mistake by opponent. The coach told that until women’s hockey advanced in skill, most results would be fashioned on negative points’.

Sriman added: “While the Zimbabwe girls absorbed the lessons avidly and translated them into action, India themselves could not adopt the same tactics successfully”.

When I asked him in the mid 1990s whether he had written so in papers so that it can be a record for posterity, he replied, “Not in the newspapers, may be, but surely in a handout or book that somebody published”. He could not recollect further on the publication.

Many years later, after continued effort, I traced this record in a publishing house. Paradoxically, it was located hardly five kms from my home.

India missed not just an opportunity at Moscow, but a historical miss.

undefined A decade later, Zimbabwe hosted and won the inaugural Africa Cup for women. The FIH awarded them with the Pablo Negre Trophy, named after present IHF president Leondro Negre’s father, for ‘achieving the maximum possible with minimal resources.’

In retrospect, Zimbabwe deserved that type of description in Moscow. Gold at the first tournament they played on the synthetic turf, most of their players had never crossed the Africa continent before. The team got entry in the last minute due to the West boycott.

For India, we need to work on theories and theories to find out what went wrong.

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