LUCKNOW: Lucknow has a fascinating moniker — ‘The City of Nawabs’. Between the 18th and 19th century, there were many who ruled the Awadh province. It so happened that many nawabs who ruled Awadh lived in the city of Lucknow. Hence the name. Some 160 years later, 18 Indian boys, who will hope to become men sometime in the near future, became Kings in the city that has housed nawabs all along.
At 7.19 pm on Sunday, when the hooter cut through the cold December chill for the final time, you knew the Indian players had done something special. It was a farcical ending — Belgium had a penalty corner which they converted — but there was no time even for the restart. The whistle sounded, the record crowd erupted and the Boys In Blue slumped to their knees trying to process what had just happened.
Indian hockey, though, stood up with its head held high for the first time in 15 years. It had not had an opportunity to react in such a way for a very long time.
The team — 18 identified and put in a separate training programme in 2014 when coach Harendra Singh took over — offered an interesting peek into how they managed to reach their natural destination. “I’m going to binge on sweets for the next few weeks,” was the reaction of one player at the post-match conference. “I haven’t had one in the last two-and-a-half years.”
The discipline has also been observed by support staff. Manager Roelant Oltmans had a drink after the match. His first in six months.
The hosts have, for want of a better phrase, been a second-half team here. On Sunday, they got off the blocks like a sprinter in an Olympic final. Gurjant Singh, who also scored against Australia in the semifinal, opened the scoring from an impossible angle after a Varun Kumar lob into the Belgian D. That sent the spectators into a frenzy, like metalheads at a Metallica concert.
That obviously had an effect on Belgium, as captain Victor Wegnez explained. “It was just too difficult to communicate in the noise,” he said. “The only instance the noise helped was whenever the decibel levels rose, we knew there was an attack incoming (laughs).” The visitors rely on patience. They suffered thanks to madness. Coach Jeroen Baart’s honestly admitted, “We got lost in the chaos.”
In tournaments past, there has been a tendency to over analyse and complicate matters. This Indian team has one phrase for every situation: play simple hockey. The phrase has privately been mocked at by journalists. Harjeet Singh backed its simplicity with the trophy by his side. “We knew what we had to do on the field,” he said.
“Everyone knew their duties. We just concentrated on playing simple hockey. We played the final like a final.”
Harendra, whose teary eyes gave away a lot, wasn’t willing to say much. His point was the players were the real heroes and ‘I wouldn’t like to the limelight away from them’.
During the semifinal of the 2005 edition, India were leading 2-0 against Australia. Harendra and the team got carried away. They wanted to score goals. Win 5-0 or 6-0. They lose 2-3. Against Belgium, they slowed it down. And won 2-1.