Hockey Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

Execution is the key to finish on the podium: V Baskaran

V Baskaran, Captain of the gold winning 1980 Olympic Games team

“I remember when the team for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games was announced, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw who was heading the All India Council of Sports paid us a visit in Bangalore. His confidence-oozing talk remained with me all through the Olympic Games. He had said, ‘You look tough and you have a fire in your belly. Pass this on to your teammates. They are young and can play with speed. Play well and you will finish on the podium.’

We were a very young squad and the media had particularly been quite critical of this fact. Barring Bir Bahadur Chhetri and myself, no one else in that team had played at the Olympics before. In fact, up until then, many had not even taken a flight much like the Indian cricket team from 1970. I agree we were raw and there was no follow up after the 1978 Asian Games where we had a solid team. 

Young but formidable 

But when I look back, I am filled with pride about my team. We had picked the best 16 players out of the 24-25 who were selected for the Camp in Bangalore. We had a formidable starting 11 with Davinder Singh as our penalty corner specialist, Sylvanus Dung Dung and Rajinder Singh joined him at the back. Right half was Gurmail Singh, Centre Half Ravinder Pal Singh who was just 19 years old from Uttar Pradesh Sports Hostel, Left half was myself, Left wing was Zafar Iqbal, Mohd Shahid centre forward, MK Kaushik and Amarjit Singh Rana the other two forwards. 

Allen Schofield from Bangalore, Mervyn Fernandis, Surinder Singh Sodhi, MM Somaya and Charanjit Kumar were brilliant in their roles. Balakrishna Singh was our Coach and Dayanand from Kerala was our Manager. What brings me pride is that 7-8 players from this squad went on to play for India for another 8-10 years. They became the stars of Indian Hockey. 

Draw against Spain, turning point 

Our campaign in Moscow didn’t begin too well. After a 18-0 win against Tanzania, we had drawn 2-2 against Poland. We could have won that match had we not missed last minute chances and I had missed a penalty stroke. In the next match, we drew 2-2 again but this was against Spain, the European Champions that year. 

This I believe was the turning point of our campaign. During the long walk back to the athletes’ village from the hockey venue, I had a chat with the boys and convinced them that a 2-2 draw against the European Champions is a good result. I had to build that self-belief in them and Spain was a fantastic team with one of the best Coaches in the world. They had a great forwardline and holding them actually made me feel this team had it in them to win. 

We were playing Russia in the Semi Final and they were a good side with really big-built players. We looked like tiny tots in front them. Unlike today, we never had video analysts back in the day. I would visit the Games Village library before the match against Russia and would record their other games on a video cassette and come back, play it to the team and analyse. One thing I always told the team was. “play your best, play your skill, defend well and don’t concede early.”

The Bombay lads were the game changers in the team. They had the right experience from the club culture in Mumbai, playing for TATAS and the Mahindras almost full-time made them very sharp. They were smart on the field, clever and tactical. They played a lot of football too and had great knowledge of the game and positioning. Zafar from Delhi, I was playing for Railways, Allen from Bangalore and Davinder from Punjab Police, we had developed a strong connection as a team. 

Our forwardline had shocked the Russians who were backed by a strong 12,000-odd people on the stands. Going into the Final, the boys were very motivated. We took a 2-0 lead at half time and went one up in the early second half. Though Spain bounced back, we beat them 4-3 to win the Gold Medal. 

Players need to give minimum 80 percent 

To achieve this kind of result, every single player needs to give his minimum 80 per cent if not 100. Every team at the Olympics come to win and they will do everything they can to stop you from giving your 100 per cent. Podium finishes cannot happen with just 4-5 players giving their 80 per cent and the rest giving their 60 per cent. 

Every single player needs to be consistent and for the Indian Men’s team the Chief Coach Graham Reid has pointed this out several times. While playing the in Hockey Pro League against top teams it will set good momentum ahead of the Olympic Games, my advice is that the team should not read too much into the results. Olympics will be a very different stage compared to the Hockey Pro League and each player will be playing about 200 minutes of play on average with back to back matches. 

Women’s Team can achieve success too 

Since I have watched this Women’s Team closely too, I feel they have great potential to do well. They have shown good results against top teams in these past few years and they can surely be the dark horse in the tournament. I feel for both Men and Women’s Team, execution is the key. They have the talent, they need to execute to perfection. If they do, they can surely finish on the podium.”  

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