Sixty years after the Indian hockey team, of which Keshav Datt was a member, won the Olympic gold at London, the national hockey team hasn’t even made it to the Beijing Games this year.
According to Datt, the decline started with the introduction of AstroTurf in the late 1970s. “Thanks to the dilly-dallying of the federation, we were not mentally or physically equipped to play on AstroTurf, which the rest of the world had embraced,” he says. The new artificial surface required a vastly different style of play from that traditionally practised by the Indian players. “Our generation depended on skill and deft stick-work, but with the advent of AstroTurf, the emphasis shifted to long, powerful, raking passes,” says Datt. “As the game speeded up, fitness levels also had to be upped to last 70 minutes”.
This, he feels, was not given adequate attention by a string of office bearers at the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF). He accuses the federation of lacking foresight: “They are all busy making money and playing petty state-centric politics.”
“They (IHF office bearers) are whipping old horses, while we need fresh blood,” he says, adding, “look what (M.S.) Dhoni and his likes have done to cricket.” The 83-year-old takes pride in being completely connected with the world of contemporary sport, even though he rarely ventures to the fields of the Maidan any more.
Though not exactly bitter, Datt says his outspokenness led to him being largely sidelined. “I was too vocal about matters and did not get any award, while others got Arjunas and Padma awards and this and that,” he says. “I have no regrets, but I don’t think I’d like to play hockey for India again.”