Kuantan (Malaysia) October 30 (ENS): When the referee blew his whistle, there were no theatricals. No hands were pointed accusingly towards the heavens as if to say ‘I told you so’. Nobody collapsed and kissed the astroturf as if a war had been won. There was certainly no middle fingers to the crowd. Despite all the political turmoil back in the sub-continent India and Pakistan hockey players shook hands and shared pleasantries too after the final at the Asian Champions Trophy in Malaysia. India won the title 3-2.
Sardar Singh & co calmly shook hands with their Pakistani counterparts before congratulating each other on a job well done. It certainly did not look like they had triumphed in a tournament final, beating Pakistan, no less.
The rather subdued reaction of the Indian players is perhaps an indication of the dominance that India have enjoyed over their rivals for the last few years. Pakistan has not beaten India since their players infamously showed Bhubaneshwar the middle finger after winning a Champions Trophy semifinal game back in December 2014. Since then the game has taken vastly different routes in both countries. When India made the quarterfinals of the Olympics, Pakistan were watching at home having even failed to qualify for the tournament.
As much as that trend has to do with the semi-resurgence the game has had in India, Pakistan’s internal struggles have had an equally significant effect. “Pakistani players can hold heads high. Really was a David vs Goliath match if you consider the set-ups they come from,” a Pakistani fan tweeted after the game. A sad fall for a nation that was not too long ago considered one of the best in hockey.
For India, Asian domination, that once looked threatened by the likes of South Korea, even Malaysia to an extent, looks assured. The next step would be to hang in there with giants of the global game like Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Making the semifinals of the World League final and the performance in Rio were the first two steps towards that. Now the time has come to consolidate the ground that has been conquered.
But there were jittery moments too. As the clock revealed there were thirty seconds more before the referee put an end to the final, a feeling of dread must have crept into the hearts of most Indian supporters. Their minds must have harked back to Rio where India, closing in on a very creditable draw with Germany, conceded with just 3 seconds left on the clock. For a few seconds, it looked like this match might go down that route too, as Pakistan stepped up the pressure. Then, all of a sudden, the ball was in the Pakistan half and the clock was ticking down a shade faster than usual. There were no shockers, Sunday was India’s.