Apr 17, 2014



Khaliqur Rahman

After Independence power gradually gripped the nation, both internationally and intra-nationally. Within India, callousness entered through the back door and slowly gripped power. Outside India, it was cleverness that handled power beautifully to see that India did not rise to its potential at normal speed. Our power holders in India played into their hands. Hockey administration toed the same line.
Hockey was beautiful in the days of Dyanchand until perhaps the late fifties. Not because we used to win but because Hockey was played with a certain level of craft and skill that was beautiful. The bully at the centre, also at the twenty five-line, had an element of chance founded on the capability of ball control. The penalty bully did give some chance to the defenders, if they were better at bullies. The dribbles, the dodges, the moves always had a certain charm about them. Asian Hockey (the Indian and the Pakistani) was at the top. The West didn’t like it. They knew that the superior physical prowess of theirs could do nothing against the Asian artistry in dribbling and dodging and mindboggling moves. They were simply rattled. So what did they do? They decided to change the very fabric of the game. Gradually they succeeded in changing the playing condition, the rules and regulations and the very nature and spirit of Hockey which the Asians were unquestionably good at. Perhaps they were unsurpassable.
They moved the twenty five-line to thirty five-line. The dribbling space thus was reduced. The off-side rule now applied at thirty-five. The bully was removed. One more skill was done away with. If that was not enough, they introduced the astro-turf. They changed the shape of the blade of the stick. The astro-turf required very strong legs and calf muscles. The smaller blade suited robust hitting rather than skillful dribbling. Changes in short corner and penalty rules and replacing pushes with strokes encouraged robust power game and crippled Asian Hockey which found it hard to adapt according to the new demands of the game because of physical unequalness and various socio-politico-economic factors.
Now that when India has a wooden spoon and Pakistan, seventh position, in the Olympiad 2012, it is time we took some strong measures.
We should go back to promote our Asian style of Hockey. We should play on hard surface or grass and bring back the aesthetics of the game and stop playing power Hockey on artificial surface. Dribbling, old fashioned dodges and moves will automatically fall in place and the game will regain its charm and romance. The size of the blade must be restored to its earlier shape.
These measures will reduce the expenses considerably on having to provide astro-turf at the grass root level. This will also take care of the needless and perhaps over ambitious efforts to raise the fitness level of our youth to be able to grapple with the brute force and pace and power of the Western World. This will drastically cut down the expenses on physical training programmes. Physical training should be there only to facilitate acquiring the fitness level suited to our own attainable capabilities. We should play to our strength and not to theirs. We should play Indian Hockey just as they play American Football or Australian Rugby. Wimbledon still has grass courts and has persisted with an indeflectable will to preserve the grace of lawn tennis.
After all the purpose of games and sports is to attain physical health through recreation so that balanced human personalities are developed. Competition is acceptable only amongst like contenders. Unequal competitiveness promotes unhealthy, unfair and self-defeating ambition to win bronze, silver or gold. No wonder sports persons take banned medicines and fail doping tests.
It might be argued that we have travelled a considerable distance in developing power Hockey and it would be naïve at this stage to even think of giving up the challenge. If discretion is the better part of valour it is better to give up the false challenge now than to continue to fail for years and years to come. We should look to the generation next, that is, the ten year old aspirants. They should be trained to treat and nurse Hockey of the old Indian style.
India has acquired a significant place in world economy. We are now able to dictate terms. India and Pakistan should organize their own World Cups and Champions Trophies .Let the West come and play on our grounds, in our style and see who wins!
The aim of sports and games is, I repeat, recreation, not crazy unequal competitiveness. Sports and games must be there to create and recreate and develop a sound body for a healthy mind and a healthy soul to take over and progress towards peace and happiness.



  1. https://twitter.com/gdhyanchand/status/458287288925949952

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    Gaurav Dhyanchand
    @khaliqurrahman I do agree with many of d questions you have raised. It was d IHF officials who signed in the astro turf. Sold out perhaps!
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  2. Michael Ali mikealli9@aol.com

    to me

    Dear Sir,

    I fully agree with you. your article reflects what many who have played/ seen good hockey being played truly feel.

    My late dad, Syed Mohsin Ali ( former Editor of the Morning News, Calcutta and later at Dacca and Karachi) was the vice-capt of his college team at St. Xavier's College in Calcutta and had many a time told me as the changes were brought that this was the end of the great game off hockey as played by the players of the sub-continent.

    My dad's club was the Calcutta Mohammedans and they played barefooted against even British soldiers at the Calcutta Maidan on grass.

    Warm regards,

    Currently in Karachi otherwise in White Plains, NY

  3. Here it is.

    to me

    Dear Mr.Khaliqur Rahman,

    I have read both your article and that which was written by Mr.Zakir Hussain Syed about the Off-side rule and the introduction of synthetic playing surfaces, in the Daily Times of Pakistan, via the Field Hockey.com website.

    I agree with your sentiments about flowing hockey and changes to the Rules of Hockey but, being in my mid-sixties I find my self being referred to as an 'old dinosaur' by those still playing and umpiring the game when I express my dismay. I regret to say that I found myself muttering the same term however when reading your observations on the shape of the stick-head and the development of artificial turfs.

    Indian hockey play rose to prominence rapidly following the development of the Indian style stick head, which as you will know was about half the length of what was retrospectively termed the English stickhead, and had a tighter heel bend. For the first time over the top of the ball dribbling became possible and the 'reverse' movement of the ball across the feet was facilitated, as well as reversed head stopping of the ball wide to the left. These skills were not easy with a head length of between six and seven inches, that would be considered long by modern standards, it was still necessary to use the feet to move around the ball but the skills were a lot easier than they had been with the English stick.

    The shortening of the stickhead continued until in the mid-1980's it became absurdly short. Sticks were being produced that had a horizontal head length of about three and a half inches, not much wider than the diameter of the ball. It was no longer possible to roll the stickhead around the circumference of the ball with such sticks, the stick head just ran off the ball. But the idea at that time was that the (sic) new synthetic surfaces would facilitate a style of hockey in which dribbling was almost absent, consisting entirely of crisp hard passing and the stick would be used flat to the ground, to stop the ball with the shaft just above the head.

    Thankfully players rejected both the ultra short stickhead and the coaches' visions of a style of hockey based on the first-time passing seen in soccer. In the next ten years a stick-head with a hook of about 50 degrees and an horizontal length of between four and one-quarter and four and three-quarter inches was developed. This shape facilitated movement of the ball in constant contact with the stickhead in a figure-eight, both across the feet, back and forward in front of and between the feet, and of course on the right-inner to left-outer diagonal. The left-inner to right-outer diagonal still remains a difficulty on the forehand without proper foot movement. Contd... in next comment

  4. Sadly the modern player is seldom taught the importance of moving the feet in relation to the ball when dribbling or indeed of taking the stick-head around the back of the ball. Few draw the ball back rotate the stickhead around behind the ball and move the ball forward again at a different angle. The modern stick has made the 'Indian' dribble so easy that few learn what came to be called, in an almost derisory way, the English dribble, but it was the mastery of the combination of these two styles that led to the dazzling stickwork of the players of the Chand era. The old Masters did not play with the stickhead almost constantly inverted over the front of the ball as many modern players do .

    The modern player often cannot even get his feet around the ball sufficiently to make a hard left to right hit - he uses the edge of the stick and a scythe-like stroke with the handle flat to the floor. Edge hitting, introduced around 1992 (and in use a few years before that when it was clearly illegal) further reduced the need, and therefore the ability, to get the feet around the ball - but this had nothing to do with the shape of the stickhead. Edge hitting, had it been permitted in the 1930's, would have made the left to right hit much easier with the English stickhead. In fact the logical step would have been to allow use of both sides of the stickhead rather than permit edge-hitting (which has proved to be dangerous as it tends to lift the ball) but that is another chapter - maybe one for the future. The shape of the stickhead is now optimal for movement of the ball with the stick, so stickwork should be generally developed to a much higher level; for a decline in stickwork - and the absence of footwork - we must look elsewhere.

    The lost of the Off-side rule led to concentrations of players at either end of the pitch, rather than in the middle, and to changes in team formations. It had no impact whatsoever on the development of or loss of stickwork but it did change passing patterns. Contd... in next comment

  5. The synthetic pitch had a large impact on skills in the UK because it released hockey from the cricket outfield, available only in daylight during the cricket off-season and then only for matches, never for training.(Holland and Germany developed early dominance in hockey in Europe largely because neither country bothers much with cricket - or rugby for that matter and they also developed the indoor game). From the 1980's synthetic playing surfaces became available in all weathers all year around and until late at night - and players took full advantage of them. They also made players even more lazy about ball control and their trapping skills declined considerably. On a natural surface one expected the ball to move about and to occasionally lift from the surface, players used to synthetic surfaces are usually unaccustomed to this unpredictability and the need to adjust the ball position constantly. Stick and ball skills are different on an artificial surface but not hugely so and they are not of themselves a reason for a decline in stickwork skills, rather the opposite if such skills are properly coached. Not having regular access to artificial surfaces for practice is a big disadvantage, as big as not playing regularly against strong opposition or not developing sufficient stamina and the management of concentration to play a game at high intensity for the full seventy minutes.

    I lay the majority of the blame for a decline in stickwork not on changes to the Rules in general but specifically on a refusal to apply the Obstruction rule and a seemingly insignificant change to the Obstruction rule guidance made nearly twenty years ago. (That I should be blathering on about a change made before some of them were born does not impress young players - they 'switch off').

    No one watching a hockey match today would have any idea from doing so, that shielding the ball with the body to prevent a close opponent from attempting to play the ball is an offence. We have reached the stage where a player in possession of the ball 'automatically' shields it from an approaching opponent or when approaching an opponent. Players now lead or turn bodily into opponents with the ball behind their feet and expect the umpire to penalise opponents who do not move out of the way: they certainly don't expect to be penalised for shielding the ball in this way. If a player can with impunity turn between a challenger and the ball to shied the ball or barge through opponents while shielding the ball, there is no need to develop the skill of holding the ball when facing an opponent, no need to develop the skill of receiving the ball and moving away quickly and no need to be able to elude an opponent while playing the ball out in front of the feet. The best players do have theses skills of course - why would they not when many of them are full time professionals? - but they use both strategies. Contd... in next comment

  6. Which brings me to the small change made to the rule guidance, that I mentioned "having received the ball the receiver must move away" became in 1994 "....the receiver may move away" and is now " a player with the ball is permitted to move off". "Must move away" is directive, the other two are a choice and whichever choice is made there is no offence. That a dispensation in respect of obstructive play was being given to a receiver of the ball only while in the act of receiving the ball and controlling it was 'lost'. The change appears insignificant, it wasn't even announced when it was made; the effect of it has been huge, as has the effect of continued erosion of the rule application. A new clause, concerning a player in possession of the ball moving to impose his body between an opponent and the ball was added to the Obstruction rule guidance in 2009:-

    A player with the ball is permitted to move off with it in any direction except bodily into an opponent or into a position between the ball and an opponent who is within playing distance of the ball and attempting to play it.

    - the part in bold underlined is the most recent addition: umpires have completely ignored it, in the same way as they generally ignore in the first part the prohibition about body contact by a ball holder.

    Until the Obstruction rule guidance is amended, to insist again that a receiving player having received the ball and controlled it must, either immediately pass it away or move away with it, to put and keep it beyond the playing reach of opponents - and that is applied - and umpires also apply the rest of the Obstruction rule and rule guidance as it is currently written, stickwork will I think continue to decline because it is no longer essential. Contd... in next comment

  7. Things are however moving the other way. England Hockey launched an initiative last year to introduce hockey in a safe small game format, six or seven-a-side on a small pitch with no raising of the stickhead above knee height. That's good, but the simplified rules don't include an Obstruction rule, that is not good. It would I feel be better to introduce the game to players without a 'Backsticks' rule then without an Obstruction rule, because the advantages of developing stickwork soon become apparent; unlearning obstructive play is not easy and it doesn't seem like progress in the same way as developing stickwork does.

    Why did the Off-side rule so easily disappear? Because umpires found it difficult to position and also make the necessary timing judgements. Why has the Obstruction offence all but disappeared (third party is still penalised - when seen)? Because umpires find it difficult to make the necessary judgements about timing and distances, it's easier to ignore it. The same thing is happening in other areas, hockey is being 'dumbed down' to make umpiring easier and for (or in the hope of) television spectators. The dangerous (spectacular) shot at goal is ignored, legitimate evasive action is ignored, all ball/foot contacts are penalised - no judgement at all being made about intention. It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand the contradiction between what is written in the Rules of Hockey and 'umpiring practice - but I am a 'dinosaur'.

    Martin Conlon

    United Kingdom

    Formerly coach to the Cuban National Hockey Team