I remember as a High School student watching the 1982 Asian Games on the community TV in our neighbourhood, it was the first sports extravaganza that I remember inspiring me and our entire generation. The loss in the Hockey final notwithstanding, I still got hooked to the stick sport.
Though the folklore of Dhyan Chand and Olympic Gold Medals were irresistible, another Hockey Gold at the Olympics was not what I was looking forward for India to win, it was an Asian Games Gold defeating Pakistan that mattered most now.
A year later everything changed, India won the Cricket World Cup and as they say, the rest is history. In the next 3 decades since then, Cricket swept away all other sports into... well, almost oblivion.
In secondary school in 1986, there was fond hope of revival of Indian Hockey at the Asian Games, after thrashing all in the Group stage India met its nemesis in Pakistan again, that day I cried but told myself never to cry again for Indian Hockey.
Three years later a certain Sachin Tendulkar came on the Cricket stage and over the next two and half decades ruled the sport and the hearts of Indians slowly but surely erasing the bad memories of Hockey.
A dozen years later India won the Asiad Gold, but that was also the year when Tendulkar was at his mesmerising best ‘causing nightmares’ to the best of opponent bowlers. The Hockey win that year was made not so memorable by the Indian Hockey Federation sacking the coach and a few stars of the Gold winning team, not very impressive or inspiring for the youngsters to take up the sport for glory.
Years passed and Indian Hockey fortunes fluctuated reaching the peaks and nadirs consistently.
While Cricket took precedence, I continued to follow Hockey silently hoping to see better days. The last two years had been really pathetic, almost all hope seemed lost.
The expectation of India winning the Gold in the Incheon Asian Games wasn’t too high. As the tournament progressed and having defeated the host in the Semi-Final all hope returned. Harrowing memories of loss to arch rival started playing in the mind as India trailed 0-1 in the 1st quarter of the Final.
While the game entered the final Penalty phase, I sat in silence glued to the TV – praying! As the entire nation erupted at the heroic moment from goalkeeper Sreejesh, I shed a tear. Yes, this was different, it had to happen at the Asian Games, against Pakistan, in the Final and it did.
----- Dedicated to all my classmates and friends at Kendriya Vidyalaya, who went through similar emotions -------