Rink shrink jazzes up hockey

Faster and shorter version of the game proves to be a big hit with the aficionados.

Written by Azman Usmani | Published:May 14, 2013 2:32 am

Numerous flood lights lit up the area at the Mt. Carmel Church compound bright. Bombastic music played on the speakers. The stands were full of charged-up spectators and an environment worth relishing. What was more impressive was the fact that one could see people of all generations among the stands. Children with their grandparents digging the same source of entertainment is a rare sight these days. So what was this phenomenon that brought everyone together on a Sunday evening,resulting in such an exuberant atmosphere? As unconvincing as it may sound,it was a hockey tournament being played in the sport’s popular hub in the city.

The Mt. Carmel Sports Committee of Bandra had organized this four-day tournament of a particularly lesser known format of the game: rink hockey. This new format might keep one wondering until it is actually witnessed. To be as precise as possible,it is hockey being played inside a basketball court-sized rink. But in reality apart from the aspect that hockey sticks are wielded here,rink hockey hardly shares anything with conventional hockey.

This is because it is a curtailed and a more engaging format of the traditional sport. According to former Indian hockey captain and a joint organizing secretary at the tournament,Viren Rasquinha,the whole concept of this format is to provide more action to the viewers. He said,“The idea behind this is a more faster and shorter version of the game offering more enjoyment to the spectators,as you see there are no outsides,here you have boards,so there are less stoppages and more action.”

The duration of every match is 25 minutes,divided in two halves. One of the game changing rules of rink hockey is that hitting the ball is not allowed instead the players have to rely on their passing skills to create chances. The matches see a lot of short passing and quick off-the-ball movements. This also results in more counter attacks and hence a lot of goal-mouth action which spectators seem to love. Another feature that distinguishes this format from field hockey is the presence of side boards.

The side boards allow players to explore another dimension as they constantly look to exploit the angles of the boards to make the ball reach their players. Even free hits can be taken by rebounding the ball on the side board and receiving it themselves. So whenever a free hit is awarded,the players slightly hit the ball on the side board and take it themselves and it helps to retain possession. London Olympics referee and another of the joint organizing secretary Claudius Desales believed that a lot of emphasis should be put on using the side-boards intelligently. “It’s important because this is a different ball game all together; this is like a game of carrom,when the striker hits the board you should know where the coins will go. The concept is same here. It actually takes less of skills and more of brains,because the player has to know that ‘when I am going to push the ball it’s going to rebound over there and my player’s going to get it’.

“It depends on how well you set players up; how you can position your players and then accordingly you play the ball,” Desales said. There are no penalty corners in this game,instead three penalty corners result in a penalty stroke being awarded. Rink Hockey is played on a concrete turf which also causes the players to change their approach towards the game.

Former player and an umpire at the tournament Naseer Khan said,“The surface here plays a very important role; the surface has to be actually very smooth but the surface being ‘tar’ there are slight pebbles coming up and because of that there is a lot of bounce on the ball. Because of the bounce the game tends to get rough.”

He also threw a bit of light on how challenging it is to officiate this game. “Actually what has happened is that Rink Hockey has become a very fast game now. Because of that the umpires have to be really alert and sharp in their view. The way we have to watch the match,and check the movement of the players,it’s very different from field hockey. In field hockey if we overlook certain things,we have a chance to cover up but here you don’t have a chance to rectify your mistake,” he said as he geared up to officiate another match.

Rink hockey provides to the viewers what field hockey offers in rationed amounts in recent years – entertainment. Talking about the evolution of this format,Claudius Desales believed that this game is far more entertaining mainly because it is more of a community oriented sport and provides enjoyment for the whole family. He said,“The first tournament according to me was held in Willingdon Gymkhana,Santacruz. They used to have it in a form of a festival where after the match there were snacks and dinner for the players and after the match they used to sit in the gymkhana,have a drink or two,chill out. It was a festival more than a tournament,you know people brought their families. It was really fun,you’d have a section of the crowd supporting certain teams. The reason why this game has caught up so much is it is night hockey,so people can come and chill out after a tiring day at work. Basically we try to promote this as a family game,where we get families coming out,watching the game and cheering their teams.”

This format is also famous for its unpredictability factor where no side comes in as a favourite. One of the matches at the tournament saw Western Railways stage a comeback from 2-6 down to 6-6,and then finally winning it on the penalty strokes.

Despite being more on the fun side,this format does help players to improve a lot. Rasquinha said a lot of individual abilities can be improved by playing rink hockey. He said,”This game enhances abilities like agility,short passing,dribbling and flat stick tackling which in fact is a very important aspect in defending.”

“This game also helps the players in reflexes and in quick thinking,because you don’t have too much of time here. Before you know what happened,the ball comes back to you again. You got to think fast here,” added Desales.

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