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Ind-Pak: Away from podium,a battle for pride

Today,both Indian and Pakistani hockey are a relic of their heyday.

Written by Daksh Panwar | New Delhi | Published: December 14, 2013 4:25:28 am

The fact that more than half of India’s population is under 25 explains why most young fans in the country associate the India-Pakistan rivalry in sport primarily with cricket. Having grown up in the 90s and 2000s,for a majority of them,it means agony of defeats in Sharjah and highs of wins in the World Cups.

But old timers,and those with a taste for history,will tell you that the two neighbours have had an equally fierce rivalry on the hockey field too. India and Pakistan,in the past,have fought for the game’s biggest prizes: the Olympic gold,the Asian Games gold,World Cups. Which is why the 7-1 scoreline in 1982 weighed upon a generation’s self-esteem as much as Aaqib Javed’s hat-trick did on posterity’s.

Today,both Indian and Pakistani hockey are a relic of their heyday. Between them they have finished last in the London Olympics and failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

And at the ongoing Hockey Junior World Cup in New Delhi,their future looks equally uninspiring,too,as far as the results go,with both teams failing to make the quarters.

Final before final

The drop in quality hasn’t translated into a corresponding drop in intensity,however. And so,when the two teams play each other in a best of the rest classification match on Saturday,it will be a ‘final’ before Sunday’s final for all practical purposes.

“India-Pakistan is always a big match irrespective of what the setting is,” India’s coach Gregg Clark said. He insisted that there wouldn’t be pressure on the two teams because “of the fact that we are not in a medal position. But the traditional rivalry will be there…everybody will be focused on the big match.”

Pressure,of course,will be there,but it will be on India,said Pakistan Under-21 coach Anjum Saeed. “It is their home ground,after all,and the expectations will be huge,” said Saeed.

Both teams have played a must-win match in the tournament so far (and have failed to win that). But tomorrow’s game is surely a mustn’t-lose one: a victory won’t make this disaster of a tournament any better for either team as they won’t finish higher than 9th,but a loss against the arch-rivals would be unacceptable.

The South African Gregg Clark’s contract was anyway ending after the tournament,but Saeed’s job is likely to be on the line,given the kind of hockey establishment they have.

Which will be a shame because both teams,while not exactly setting the tournament ablaze,have shown sparks,and their performance needs to be put into perspective. India and Pakistan have had an identical tournament,wherein they have lost only one game,drawn another and won the other two. They have been done in by the format that doesn’t allow a side more than one off-game.

“If you see we are out of the tournament after losing one game. Germany are still in it despite losing one game,” said India’s assistant coach Baljit Saini. “A tournament with 12 teams and two groups of six each is always better than one with 16 teams and four groups. In the former,you have more chances of shaking off a bad day. “Therefore,don’t judge us solely by the results and where we’ll finish,but also how we have played.”

The argument will look even more credible if they play well and win too on Saturday.

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