I know that it is an oft repeated lament. The tragedy of Indian hockey cannot be encapsulated in a thousand words. A UP student Aishwarya through an RTI helped all of India discover that hockey is not the national shame, sorry, game.She needs to be commended for finally revealing what we always thought was an urban legend. Yes, we won eight Olympic hockey titles and one World Cup, but that was a sport which is alien to the manner in which it is played today. I myself played decent hockey, but the hockey that one watches on telly now is a far cry from what we played. The sport has undergone a metamorphosis, is faster, more physical, more demanding on the body, in sync with the tune of the artificial surface. Last time we failed to even qualify for the Olympics and there was a huge hullabaloo.DebacleWhen we qualified at the Dhyan Chand stadium earlier this year vanquishing France, hope floated and even soared. A new Aussie coach Michael Nobbs, some enterprising play against fellow minnows and one thought that we are ready for the Big One. The first game against the Dutch showed that we had it in us to run the best teams close. Unlike in the past when we have started poorly in big tourneys, we actually held the Dutch 2-2, leveling scores, before tiring and being defeated. But since then, we have gone to pieces and so has the dream. The Kiwis with their physicality, the Germans with a combination of strength and skill, the Koreans with their smart play patterns have out thought, out run and out maneuvered us completely. We have been shown as maladroit, inept and pale shadows of the great teams that have represented us in the past.advertisementTo be fair, hockey has evolved as a sport. The demands of Astroturf have seen a catalogue of rule changes. One can argue that this was done to help the Europeans’ style of play, but look at the Aussies who use a potent amalgam of free flowing Asian style and the tough and lethal mix of obdurate defence and penalty corner conversion. Spain and Argentina are two sides who have made rapid strides in world hockey. Pertinently, skill has not gone out of the game, body dodges, feints and swerves, dribbling, stick checks are all very much there. Then why is it that India has failed to bridge this ever increasing chasm? What makes our hockey players so weak and ineffectual in big games? Why can’t they play predators? Is it all in the mind or do we lack the basic physical regimen and skill sets required for a top hockey team? It could be a mix of all this, the ability to dribble and dodge remains, but we still hold onto the ball too long, the short passing game – position play or possession play – is crucial in modern hockey as we have witnessed again in London. The objective is to control the proceedings till you are confident of a strike at goal. The means may be different, but the goal is the same. A play maker may set up a striker to take a shot or it should result in a penalty corner. The end result is that position play should be monetised.What has been seen at these Olympics is nothing but re runs of the old maladies. One thought that Nobbs with his young and hungry wolves would be an interpreter of these maladies.PakistanUnfortunately, all of us have been cheated again. All the drills, all the set pieces, all those hours of practice have come to nought. All the ills that afflict our game, all the glitches that are endemic to Indian hockey have been on show again. The potter may have been good, but the clay was of poor quality.What is perhaps more important is that our fellow subcontinental rival – Pakistan – has also seen time pass it by. The decline and decay has perhaps not been as stark as India’s, but nevertheless the erosion in equity is equivalent. I am reminded of the same venue London, at the Willesden World Cup in 1986, it was one of the darkest days for Asian hockey. Pakistan met India for the wooden spoon, to joust over positions 11 and 12. Pakistan beat India 3-2 in extra time in this classification match. The rout was complete for both. For India there have been several ignominious defeats since. I saw Pakistan play South Africa the other day, saw them fight and overpower their opponents 5-4 after being 3-4 down, but their psyche and mental toughness like ours requires a makeover. On Tuesday, they were thrashed 0-7 by Australia.advertisementScenarioEqually, the Sydney Olympics was the closest India has come to doing something noteworthy in recent time. Must win against Poland in their last pool game, they manage a draw, missing out on a semi final place and then collapse in a heap. Tied at 8 points with South Korea at the end of the group stage, they had to beat Poland and choked. This business of being strong not just physically to take on their stronger adversaries, but being strong in the mind is crucial.Winless at London, India lost to Belgium to stare into the barrel of the gun and play the classification game for the 11th and 12th places. London Willesden redux. At the Atlanta Olympics, India finished eighth. London 2012 they will be doing better or worse, depending which prism you look at it from. Coach Nobbs disgusted with his team’s performance levels said, “I owe an apology to the nation and the Indian fans for letting them down. You just get one chance in a lifetime and you just cannot walk out without performing. The players have failed to perform. Call it pressure of whatever, they have let themselves, the team and the country down.” Enough said.