A brief timeline of Indian hockey

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With kids trying to maneuver a ball or a puck into the opponent’s goal using a hockey stick, India’s craze for hockey is a never-ending love affair that has been proven from time to time with its glorious victories at several global domains. At every corner of the country, one can easily locate young talents showcasing their tricks on the wet rough grounds of hockey. While hockey might not be an Indian-origin sport, it has somehow been preserved as a sacred sport in our history. 

India the global champion for decades might have faced a lagged but that doesn’t mean they won’t ever make a comeback. With the splendid performance of the women and men’s team at the Tokyo Olympics 2020, India has once again proven that hockey is more than just a sport in the country. But with such a wide fandom for the sport in the nation, not many people know about the fascinating history of hockey and hockey as a national sport of India.

The History of Hockey

Hockey has a long history in India, where once the country produced jewels of hockey stars like Dhyan Chand or Balbir Singh. If we trace back in time, historical records show that a crude form of the game was played in Egypt 4,000 years ago and in Ethiopia around 1,000BC, whilst an ancient form of the game was also played in Iran in around 2,000BC. Several pieces of evidence of sport were also recovered from ancient Rome and Greece. During this time, hockey was widely popular as ‘Hokie’ and players would play hitting small balls with a stick.

Modern hockey was invented by the British in the mid-1800. It was introduced as a popular school game and made its way to India during British rule somewhere around the 1850s. Soon, the game kicked off in the nation with several kids securing dramatic goals on their local fields. As the sport requires no fancy equipment or techniques, Indians were fast to adapt the game as their own. They would play hockey barefoot on rough grass showcasing tremendous sporting spirit. Maybe this was the reason that the country’s first Hockey club was formed in 1855 in Calcutta.

Further, national competitions like the Beighton Cup held in Calcutta and the Aga Khan Tournament of Bombay popularized the sport in the widest corners of the country. In 1906, several people tried forming a hockey federation in the country but their request was declined. Later, in 1924 International hockey federation was formed along with the Indian hockey federation in 1925. Though hockey was being played at the international level as early as 1908, India never made a debut until 1926. During this year the first international tour to New Zealand was organized where Indians played a total of 21 matches, winning 18 of them. It was the time where the emerging hockey star Dhyan Chand made his name.

The Indian Hockey Federation first applied for the Olympics and earned an FIH membership in 1927, thus ensuring that the Indian hockey team would play its first Olympics in 1928. This marks the beginning of India’s dominance on the world’s hockey platform. A legacy of 8 decorated gold medals!

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India at World Hockey

In 1928, India played its debut match at the Olympics clinging to the Gold medal in the first attempt. Though this time India didn’t played as an independent nation but as British-India. Dhyan Chand as the center-forward, and Marthins, their inside-right, performed very well together. He scored 14 goals in the total of 28 goals in the Olympics. This was just the beginning and India consecutively secured two more Olympic Gold medals in 1932 and 1936. After this, world war two broke out and the Olympics were canceled for the next two times. In 1947, India gained Independence which means that now the players will play for an independent nation.

Though struggling from partition and initial independence, India somehow managed to send the players to the 1948 Olympics. The team was led by legendary Balbir Singh Sr. who secured India’s reigning league at the Olympics. India defeated Great Britain in the final match and won Gold first time as an independent nation. This was perhaps one of the greatest victories of the country in Indian history. India was undefeated!

The Indian hockey team maintained its global dominance in many more games to come. They won two more Gold medals in the 1952, and 1956, Olympics. India once again won the Gold at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. In the 1958 and 1962 Asian Games, India won a silver medal and finally a gold medal at the 1966 Asian Games. It was one of the most splendid periods of Hockey for India. In the 1968 Asian Games, India won a bronze medal, the lowest ever since their debut.

The Downfall of Hockey

At the first Hockey World Cup ever held, India secured the third position while Pakistan took the cup home. In the 1972 Olympics in Munich, India won a bronze medal. In the 1973 Hockey world cup, we managed to reach the finals before being defeated by the Netherlands.

In the 1970s, when women hockey reached the international level, the 1974 women’s Hockey World Cup was organized. India women’s hockey team secured the fourth position in the game. In 1975, India’s men’s team finally won the hockey world cup. Both men and women teams played well at the international level but soon the game dropped. In 1976, when Astroturf was introduced (artificial grass fields), India’s performance dropped drastically. Because Indian players were trained on rough fields, they were unable to maintain a grip on the artificial grass. By this time, India also lost three consecutive Asian Games in 1970, 1974, and 1978.  In the 1982 Asian Games, the women’s hockey team made history by winning gold in their home ground. 

Since then no Gold medals at international games were won by either of the teams until 1998 when India once again took gold home in the Asian Games. In the 2008 Olympics, for the first time in history, India failed to even qualify for the game. By all this time, India is struggling to maintain its grip back on the game.

In the recent Tokyo Olympics 2020, India made history by winning a bronze medal in men’s hockey breaking its stagnant Olympic drought. The women team too showed an impressive comeback by reaching the semi-finals. This incredible achievement by both teams will perhaps encourage more youth to take up on hockey than cricket. 

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