Not long back my son and I were having a discussion about the National Game of India which I had believed to be hockey. Then he mentioned that a friend in his school had remarked that hockey was not the National Game of India. Having grown up learning that and reading it in so many books I refused to believe him. Well, further research showed that India apparently has no National Game!
This fact came to light when a young girl from Lucknow wanted to know when hockey was made the National Game. She wrote to the concerned Ministry and she got a letter stating that no game had been declared as the National Game in India.
A lot of places and books do mention field hockey as the National Game but there seems to be not mention of an official declaration. Though I am still a little unsure about all this but National Game or not, hockey has a glorious past in India and at one time was the favourite game amongst Indians.
The best time for field hockey in India was from the period 1928 to 1956 when the Indian hockey team (Men) won six gold medals at the Olympics consecutively. Dhyan Chand was the star player of the golden era of hockey in India. India did win Gold in the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and also in the Moscow Olympics held in 1980 subsequently.
India was the first nation outside Europe to become a part of the International Hockey Federation. The Women’s Indian Team finished at the fourth place at the Women’s Hockey World Cup at Mandelieu and also at the Olympics held at Moscow in 1980.
Hockey is one of the oldest known sports and is believed to have been played by ancient Arabs, Greeks, Romans, Persians and Ethiopians too. Believed to have originated in Asia and Persia, the earliest mention of the game dates back to 1527.
There were different variations of the game that were played through years and places. Some played it as a sport while some played it in the quest to become better warriors. In its present form field hockey developed as a school game in the 19th Century in British Isles. The game’s immediate predecessors were Scottish Shinty, Welsh Bandy and the Irish Hurling
Introduced by the British Army in India, it soon caught the fancy of Indians then. The first Hockey Club was established in India at Calcutta in the year 1885-86. The rules of the game were standardized and the International Hockey Federation was formed in 1924 and the Indian Hockey Federation in 1925.
There are two teams that play at a time and the game is played by 11 players from each team with one from each team being the goal keeper. Initially each match was divided into two halves of 35 minutes each but in 2014 the rules changed. Now there are four halves of 15 minutes each. Each player carries a hockey stick that is 150-200 cm long. The ball that the players chase is made of hard plastic. The ball has to be hit with the stick and the players cannot hold, kick or carry it. The aim is to score a goal on the opponent team’s side. The goal is considered to be valid only if the shot is made from within the striking circle.
India made its debut at the Olympics in 1928 and caught everyone’s attention. They won the Gold effortlessly without conceding a single goal. Dhyan Chand emerged as a clear hero for Indian Hockey.
Another curious thing about the Indian hockey team deserves a mention here. Balbir Singh can be said to be a name that was synonymous with Hockey for three decades, not one but five players with the name of Balbir Singh have played for the Indian Team. The first Balbir Singh’s most memorable performance was at Helsinki in 1952 when he scored five goals against a match with Netherlands. Four others with the same name were a part of Indian team in the later years. Few other famous Indian Hockey players are K.D. Singh, DilipTirkey and Dhanraj Pillay who all had great skills.
In recent times Hockey has been looking at regaining its lost glory. A popular movie by the name of Chak De India, chronicled the journey of the Women’s Hockey Team under a strict yet talented coach. The recent win of the Indian Men’s Team against Pakistan with a score of 7-1 got a lot of praise for the Indian Team and also drew attention back to the sport.