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Baskaran Retires from Railways (11/7/2010)
--Sunil Taneja
Time passes quickly, and memory fills the heart when one crosses each stage. One of the shining stars of India sports Vasudevan Baskaran has come across another phase in his illustrious career, recently. After 36 years of being part of sport-serving Indian Railways, he was superannuated from the services last month.

Stick2hockey.com pays tribute to the retiring star in a new series that will focus on personal side of former legends each month henceforth.

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A multi-faceted personality -- who had brilliant stints being player, coach, administrator and columnist – Baskaran has all but sweet memories of being part of Indian Railways.

The legend choosing to join the Indian Railways in itself is interesting, which should serve eye-opener for budding stars – passion first, purse second.

Before joining Railways, Baskaran was in his home team, Tamil Nadu. Though a competent outfit, Tamil Nadu lost to the Indian Railways in the Senior National Championships, first at Bangalore and then on another occasion in Calcutta. The stormy Railways which had such stars as Harbinder Singh on its array, beat them on both the occasions and that was a crucial turning point in Baskaran’s career.

“Railways, at that time, was a great team. When they beat us twice comprehensively, I decided to join them. It proved great for me. I joined Railways though had offers from other institutions, as it was clearly the best side. I want to be part of best team of India, wanted to play best hockey, and joining Railways was a major decision of my life” Baskaran reminisced with loads of nostalgia.

Baskaran joined the team of his liking in November 1974 and achieved as much as he wished to. He was part of as many as 12 editions of Nationals with the Railways which won gold or Silver in every time except 1986 at Meerut which incidentally is his last Nationals.

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The success streak of Railways in the Nationals, and the men behind those like Baskaran in itself is a glorious part of Indian hockey history -- never documented. However, for those who were part of those feats, the memories are fresh. One such feat Baskaran relishes most even today happened a year before he won the Moscow Olympic gold. He happily shares the feat with joy of an exuberant with the site.

The 1979 Calcutta Nationals Final between the Railways and very strong Indian Airlines team, which had legends like Ashok Kumar, Aslam Sher Khan, Surjeet Singh and midfield maestro P. Krishnamurthy in its roll. So close was the final that even after twice playing full match, the outright result was not forthcoming. It was then replayed at Barabati Stadium, Cuttack for another try for the result.

Baskaran lets us know his role in getting the honour for his team. “I was playing at the left-half position. From there, normally nobody attacks. Once I got a

loose ball inside their 25-yard area. I marched ahead and the opponent goal-keeper rushed early. I thought I could beat the goalie and score a goal, which I eventually did. I drew him out easily, and within a few seconds, scored the winner. I was the captain, so scoring the crucial goal which enabled us winning the Nationals gave me double happiness.”

Later, Baskaran coached the same institutional team from 1986 till his retirement. Railways won the 100th Beighton Cup in Calcutta, to name a few feats under him.

However, the Railways are no longer the uncrowned kings of Indian hockey. It is currently number 5 or 6 in the country. Aware of the pass, Baskaran has a few words on how to bring back the good olden days.

“Right now, Indian Oil is at the top. Bharat Petroleum, Air India, Army XI, ONGC are all good. Railways number comes after all these outfits.”

He suggests Railways need to recast its recruitment policy in order to restore its glory. “Players nowadays are well educated, and need placements fitting their status. Therefore, in tune with the changing generational aspirations, prospective players should be offered jobs that fit their qualification. That’s not sufficient. When they quit playing, they should be given decent administrative jobs so that they can return some good for the sport they played. This type of treatment to players will given confidence amongst the youngsters to opt for the Railways”.

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Besides Railways, Baskaran also coached senior national men’s team for many spells. Those are in the realm of record. Still, he isn’t quite happy. “I have a grudge that I was never given deserving longer period with the senior teams. I had longer spells with only junior national teams, which enabled me to give results. For instance, for the first time we reached the finals of the Junior World Cup (1997), though we lost the title narrowly 2-3 to Australia”, laments genuinely disappointed Baskaran.

A spot on coach Baskaran’s India: A development team of Baskaran defeated full-pledged Australia in the 1996 Indira Cup (2-1), which the Hockey Year Book then hailed as ‘The Victory of the Year'. The logic behind the acclaim was, the losing team had as many as 8 World Cuppers including Stephen Davies and trained by Frank Murray. At Sydney Olympics four years later, Australia struggled to draw India (2-2) after India struck the fasted goal of the tournament. Baskaran had ups and downs in his coaching. But his teams' matches against Australia strike in mind tellingly against the backdrop of 0-8 Delhi drub! Indian hockey has come a long way!!

Baskaran has many noteworthy suggestions for the betterment of hockey. He feels the need for a proper calendar, a proper schedule of the game. “After the Delhi Commonwealth Games, a section of our national team members were asked to play the Surjit memorial Cup in Jalandhar. It is, of course, an important tournament; but with the Asian Games just a few weeks away, I would like to see the players preparing for it rather than playing a domestic competition. So, there should be a proper plan. Players should play international hockey 6-months an year, and besides that they must feature in local tournaments. I, as a player, played in many remote areas and everywhere crowd was amazing. But our priorities have to be sorted out to get best internationals results”, Baskaran minces no words.

He also feels for the Nationals which were not conducted for the last four years. “That’s another bad thing. And top of everything, administration issues must be sorted out at the earliest”, he said. Baskaran continues his passion of coaching even after retiring. He coaches youngsters and wants to do it on a much bigger level, in a professional way.

“CWG proved hockey is number two game in India after cricket, ahead of new sensational sports like boxing and tennis. This popularity needs to be harnessed. We need to run the game in corporate style, professional approach is a must. Advertisers will stand in queue to promote their brands through hockey if we ran our game well”.

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“The important thing is that we should not get satisfied with our current achievement. We should always look towards the future for the betterment of the game. If a player gets an Arjuna award, he should not take it as a final feather in his cap. That is just a beginning. His aim should always be to reach the next level of excellence”.

Like many others, Baskaran is very fond of golf and wants to enjoy it completely in his 'senior-citizen era', though his first love would always remain hockey. "I enjoy playing golf and will keep on playing, but I want to do something really concrete for hockey”

Will he enter administration of hockey, and for that touch the field of sports politics, just like, say, his former Railways’s colleague Pargat Singh (he has recently contested for the Hockey India president post).

Our star from the down south has a different plan. "You see, India won the Silver medal in the Common Wealth Games. How much did the administrators contribute to it? Of course, I want to contribute to the game of hockey, but in a different way. I am already coaching some school kids, and want to take this job to the next level. Insofar as as administration is concerned, I have held the post of Secretary at the State level sometime bac, and I have no hesitation to concede the fact that I was just busy to save my post all the time, and because of that could not do anything concrete for the game. I would rather want to be a CEO of a sports concern rather than a Secretary of a State', he asserts.

He wishes and foresees a role akin to Viren Rasquniha and Prakash Padukone.

“They ran Olympic Gold Quest. I want to do something similar, but it will be exclusively for hockey"

Is the Indian society watching, we tend not to hide from asking.

Baskaran’s parting shot: “Sports is not only playing a game. It teaches us how to be a better human being.

Unique achievements of Vasudevan Baskaran:

Skipper of the last Indian team that won the Olympic gold.

First player from the Southern part of India to win both Arjuna and Padamshree awards.

Pic Captions
Top: Baskaran in his 20s.
Middle: coach Baskaran with Pakistan test captain Anil Aldrin
Third from top: Baskaran coaching his boys
Bottom: Baskaran in 2006

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delhi final
by Khusmeet Singh on 11/9/2010 12:27:48 PM
i purchased only one ticket, commonwealth hockey final. thought whoever is in the final i will get to see good hockey. it was not, lot of things are wrong with indian hockey. i can't belive d0wn 0-8 score. we are not this bad i agree,
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hockey baskaran
by Ram Ratan on 11/8/2010 4:15:22 PM
i read two good articles today, the other one was about support staff. i can't believe he is retired, still i remember his playing days... baskaran and all belong to old school, came to hockey for the heck of it...wish him cheerful retired life
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