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April 3, 2000

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Ground rules

Cedric D'Souza

In the last few weeks there were many queries from readers, which I had promised to address. The topics that seem to be most dominant are the FIH’s changing of rules (that many feel favour the European style of hockey), and the thinking that the direct thump during the execution of a penalty-corner is more beneficial.

It would be better to first enlighten you on how new rules are made and then leave it to your discretion to find out why Indian hockey is not the best beneficiary of any rule change. But before any explanation, a brief on the structure of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) - the apex body that controls hockey the world over - would be proper.

The FIH council has six Asian representatives - Mansoor H Atif (Pakistan), the Sultan of Malaysia, K P S Gill (India), Syed Mudasar Asgar (Pakistan), Muneyoshi Ueda (Japan), and Mr. Jae Won Shim (Korea).

The Executive Board has two Asian representatives - Mansoor H Atif (Pakistan) and Muneyoshi Ueda (Japan).

The Rules Board has three Asian representatives - Mansoor H Atif (Pakistan), Mrs. Amrit Bose (India) and G. Vijayanathan (Malaysia). And just for your information, the president of this board is Mansoor H Atif (Pakistan). In addition to this there is also the Rules Advisory panel that is well represented by Asians.

Apart from the above, there are various other committees -- of no relevance to the subject am dwelling upon -- like the Competitions committee, the Development and Coaching committee, the Equipment committee, the Media and Public Relations committee, the Medical committee, the Athletes' panel.

Now, as you have noticed, there is Asian representation within the FIH. Maybe, it is not quite enough, but it is still very much there. And, it is for these people to voice their opinion and convince all concerned about the merits of the Asian style of hockey; that rules detrimental to the Asian game should not be structured.

Let's see how are rules made and implemented?

First, the Advisory panel recommends changes/suggestions that in their opinion will make the game more viewer/spectator-friendly as well as simple and free-flowing. These recommendations are then studied by the rules board, which in turn sends a circular to all the federations around the globe explaining the new ideas and concepts. It is for the respective federations to try out these ideas and send a feedback to the FIH on the advantages /disadvantages vis-ŕ-vis the betterment of the game.

If the recommendation does have positive feedback then it becomes an experimental rule which is again tried out for another year or more. Once it is dissected and analysed, and if the Rules board feels that the change will enhance the game, then it becomes a rule.

Thus, things are done in a systematic manner. And, it is not, as many feel, that the Europeans decide and change rules according to their whims and fancies. At every stage the suggested changes are discussed by the various boards/panels till the rule is framed.

It is my opinion that we in the Asian subcontinent do not adapt/adjust and plan accordingly when the rule is still in the trial/experimental stage. Change is necessary for the development and growth of the game, but the Indian and Pakistan hockey federations must change their mindsets; they must make sure they try and carry out the recommendations circulated by the FIH, as well as send feedbacks on the pros and cons of the experimental rule.

We fail to realise that if we do not try and test the recommendations, we will be at the wrong end of the stick once the recommendation becomes a rule. What is the point in trying to adapt after the rule comes into force. By that time at least two years would have passed!

The FIH does realise that India's and Pakistan’s participation is very much essential for the game’s image. Just imagine hockey without the Asian skill and artistry! It is a known fact that stadiums are normally full when an Indian or Pakistan team is playing. So it is in the FIH’s interest to ensure that changing rules do not hamper the dominant features that are prevalent in the Asian teams. Remember more spectators means more business, as sponsors will then volunteer to pump money into the game.

Which sponsor would want to put money into an event that has empty stands? The next major tournament is the Champions trophy in The Netherlands and it will be the first time in the history of the Champions Trophy (incidentally initiated by Pakistan) that both India and Pakistan will not be participants.

I recall witnessing a Test match in Amsterdam between Pakistan and The Netherlands, way back in 1995. The stadium was packed to capacity and the crowd was equally appreciative of both the teams' skill and dexterity. I am not so sure whether the stadiums will be full during the upcoming Champions Trophy, because it is a known fact that the knowledgeable Dutch spectator loves to see the attacking, free-flowing hockey which basically depicts the skill and artistry of the teams from the subcontinent. Sure, they will definitely feel shortchanged.

The direct thump whilst executing a penalty-corner

This used to be the route taken by all the teams in the past couple of decades, but with opposition defenses getting the upper hand new plans had to evolve to outfox the opposition. Goalkeepers, so long as they were not unsighted by the charge out, found it easy to block the direct hit by getting into the logged or sleeping position.

Coaches then rethought strategies and tactics and soon the more dangerous flick ball or the drag flick replaced the direct hit. This skill became an integral part of most of the elite teams' armmoury. Again the drag flick can also be termed like a direct strike as the ball is propelled towards the goal without any passing on top of the circle. But there is a slight difference here between the drag flick and the direct hit. The drag flicker drags the ball directly into the path of the first charge out, thereby ensuring that the goalkeeper is unsighted for just that moment before he fires the ball into the goal.

Again with teams using various methods in the executing of the penalty-corner, most of the teams will alter their charge out, thereby making it difficult for the attacking team to plan in advance what to do.

Yes, one can have an idea as how to penetrate the defense but one cannot be rigid in planning. Stealth, guile, skill, power and focus are the prerequisites for anyone who is on top of the circle. The team that can adapt to the ever-changing scenario presented to them on top of the circle will be most successful. If the charge out is good then the first runner will do one of two things: block the first strike or put pressure on the striker into hitting hurriedly. The goalkeeper will undoubtedly get into the logged position, thereby covering most of the goal. As the penalty-corner must strike the board his log position automatically creates a wall for the striker. This is a relatively easy job for the defending team.

Now, as we do not have the same quality of power in our strike we have to resort to variations where skill is involved. Hence the use of indirect methods. I agree that it is best to hear the ball being hit from the top of the circle and then sounding the board. However, one must be aware of what is happening in modern hockey, be it in the manner in which the game has progressed as also the different ploys used by the defensive units. One must be capable to adapt and alter ones plan in a moment and use every trick possible to score.

Most of our teams during training do not simulate match situations, so the players are not mentally and physically tuned to the rigours of international play. It is here that I would like to emphasize that it is imperative for our team to train to play and not play to train by simulating game situations during training and identify what are our strengths and weaknesses.

In the end it is the team with the best balance on skill, fitness, tactics and mental strengths that will emerge victorious.

Cedric D'Souza

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