One of the spin-offs in a career in which writing and commenting on cricket seems to have taken precedence – despite having been to Olympic Games, Asian Games, SAF Games and numerous other non cricket sporting events – is that I have not been in touch with a whole generation of Indian hockey players.
A quirk of fate offered me a chance to make some headway in that direction when I got to spend some quality time with some players last week. In fact, I got to chat up with a couple of them from the Indian squad that took the field in the Hero Honda FIH World Cup on a 15-minute drive and we were able to exchange notes on a number of contemporary issues facing Indian hockey.
One of the pet peeves of the contemporary player is that their predecessors keep insisting that they do not work as hard as they did in their time. “I believe that if we had played in their era, we could have played three matches in a day. Such was the pace at which hockey was played then,” one of the players told me.
Now, that may be debatable but the players – like the modern cricketers who believe that past players are making a living by commenting on their performances – do have a point about some of the former stars being a little uncharitable towards the present squad. For I have always believed that former players have a responsibility towards the sport that they played so passionately and follow with similar intensity now.
If I tended to agree with the spirit of that statement I was in disagreement with what came next – and it had to do with payments. “We don’t get compensated for the amount of work we put in at training,” the player said, pointing out that unlike in the past when National camps were not year-long affairs.
“Players could spend time with their families and turn out for their respective employers’ teams in the domestic circuit. Now, we do not spend much time at home and find it hard to play for our employers,” he said. I pointed out that money was not the reason they had picked up the hockey stick the first time and said I believed their recent strike was unjustified.
“You talked of dues when you were not contracted to get any amounts from your Federation,” I said. “I am not against you making money but I disagreed with your method. If you were seeking player contracts and graded payments, you should have got into negotiations with the Federation and convinced them like the cricketers did a few years ago.”
To their credit, both players did not show any signs of animosity and heard me out when I explained how the then captain Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath spent close to two years convincing officials of the Board of Control for Cricket in India that graded payments needed to be introduced.
“I agree that we started playing because we were passionate about it and did not expect to be rewarded for pursuing our passion,” he says. “But having coming along and having proved ourselves to be the best in the land, is it unfair to expect to be compensated? And, don’t you think many youngsters would be drawn to the game if we make it lucrative enough?”
Of course, I said. And since we had arrived at our destination, it was time to drop them with promises to stay in touch and share notes and ideas.
This piece was written for www.stick2hockey.com