CHENNAI: The 2008 Beijing Games was not a memorable one for Indian men’s hockey. The team that ruled world hockey with elan once upon a time, failed to qualify for the first time ever. Former India captain Arjun Halappa described it as a black day for Indian hockey. “After losing to Great Britain in qualifying, I switched off my phone. There were too many calls and it was terrible,” he said on the sidelines of the 90th MCC-Murugappa Hockey Gold Cup.
Halappa, who bagged silver in the 2010 Commonwealth Games, credited Jose Brasa for reviving the team. “Taking over from Joaquim Carvalho, he lifted the side’s fortunes. Brasa made it so easy to switch positions and play. It was a mixture of Indian and European hockey. Everybody coped very well.”
The 35-year-old veteran feels that Indian hockey has been doing well in the past 11-18 months. However, he opined that the midfield is no longer creative. “I’m not blaming players. Nowadays, it’s more power hockey. It’s all about hard running and chasing. Back in my time, we had skillful and naturally gifted players in Dhanraj (Pillay), Gagan (Ajit Singh), Deepak (Thakur) and Prabhjot (Singh). They were like Messi and Ronaldo. A class above the rest,” he said.
The fast pace is robbing the grace of the game, according to Halappa. “Players are no longer following basics. Stopping the ball is necessary. When you stop, you look around and have time to make your next move. The ball is in control. When the ball is in control, it becomes easier to beat your man.
“The modern game is pressurizing players too much. Especially in India, where we have a rich history, players are always on the hook. Everyone comes in to the national team with hope of regaining the country’s past glory. This affects them mentally, and the same is reflected on the field. We should have a clear mindset when we go for major tournaments like the Olympics. The boys did a tremendous job in Rio, but cracked under pressure. These Europeans play a different ball game all together. The intensity is high,” he concluded.