BREAKING THE BIG-3 BARRIER IN BIG TOURNAMENTS Of INTERNATIONAL MEN'S FIELD-HOCKEY
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BREAKING THE BIG-3 BARRIER IN BIG TOURNAMENTS of INTERNATIONAL MEN'S FIELD-HOCKEY

 
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Addressing the challenge to ensure Big Tournament Longevity and maximize Big Tournament Lifespan for Bhaarateeya Hockey. Is there really a way for Asian hockey to ward off the curse of the astroturf.

In men’s field-hockey there has been an awesome gold standard established over the course of the last two plus decades.  I call it the BIG-3 BARRIER because it has virtually become a lofty wall to climb for those who run into it at all major men’s international field-hockey meets.  It is a wall that has to be conquered for prolonging tournament life/ensuring tournament longevity without being snuffed out in the preliminary rounds.  And this wall becomes even harder to surmount in big tournaments like the Olympics, FIH-World Cup, & the FIH Champions Trophy where it does not even budge an inch without a titanic fight. So, what does Big-3 Barrier mean in the context of men’s field hockey?

The Big-3 barrier consists of three nations that have virtually taken ownership of the summit position of men’s international field hockey for a very long time now and are rotating it amongst themselves without giving even a millimeter of ground to outsiders.  Whenever one of the Big-3 occupying the summit slips of its position, one of the remaining two is ever ready to take its place at the top. And over the past two decades plus, this awesome threesome have made it a habit of passing to each other the summit baton almost flawlessly, lest it be picked up by hungry lesser ranked outsiders.   And by all accounts their reign at the top has been relentless and there appears to be no end to their domination in sight.  Come to think of this: of the 22 FIH Champions Trophy (men's) held from 1990 onwards till the recently concluded one in 2011, the Big-3 have combined  to win 20 of them, an awesome 91% cup winning record. Of course, there have been few micro-slips in their two decades plus of domination when Spain snatched the 26th FIH Champions Trophy held at Lahore in 2004 from their collective hands and also the win by a then slowly waning Pakistan in the 16th FIH Champions Trophy held at its home-turf Lahore in 1994.  Pak had also won the FIH World Cup held at Sydney that same year. These were Pak's last big championships and this once proud hockey nation has now become a middle power in international hockey and most of times finishes last in big meets.  It is indeed a tragic situation, which is also shared by its arch subcontinental rival, Bhaarath. Recently, other sporadic hockey powers like Great Britain, the winner of the latest edition of the European Cup, have threatened to break the Big-3 monopoly. But, they have so far been unsuccessful at the big tourneys where the Big-3 powers seem to take their respective game levels to extremely high altitudes.  Coming back to the South Asian giants Bhaarath and Pakistan, they have not made even a token threat to the Big-3 domination in the big tourneys of the past 18 years. Even if we add to this equation the mercurial, streaky, and speedy South Koreans of East Asia, who can beat the best of the best on rare days, the barrier still remains unbreakable.

Germany, Australia, and the Netherlands are the outright three kings of International Men’s field-hockey today. Where the sport was once owned by the two indomitable knights of South Asia: Bhaarath and Pakistan, with their magical artistry on fields of grass, have now been replaced by the crushing power games of the Big-3 on the turf.  So what do nations like Bhaarath need to do increase their longevity and lifespan at these major tournaments?  First of all, I need to explain as to what I mean by these self-coined terms like tournament longevity, which may be of relevance to other sports as well.  Tournament lifespan could be defined as the beginning and endpoint of the team or individual’s fate in a tournament.  It can be at a complete bare minimum when the team or the individual gets eliminated in the first round itself or can be at a complete maximum where the team or the individual goes all the way to win the championship.  Tournament longevity of any team or individual then pertains to their ability of regularly making it deep into the concluding rounds and beyond (semifinals or finals). Over the past two decades and counting, the Asian hockey powers have consistently shown low tournament lifespans in the big field-hockey tournaments, esp when it comes to being the last-team-standing.  Yes, these Asian powers sure have their share of the Asian Cups, the Asian game gold medals, and other intra-continental meets but come up a cropper when it comes to summit finishes in the Olympics, FIH World Cup, and the annual FIH Champions Trophy.

Now let us take a look at what the stats say about the three Asian hockey nations: Bhaarath, Pakistan, & South Korea and how they have fared against the Big-3 in big tournaments since 1990.  Table A (see below) looks at Bhaarath’s statistics against the Big-3.   Against Australia, Bhaarath has a winning % of 22.22 and has lost by average difference of -0.67 goals per encounter.  Against Germany it is 11.00% win record and it has lost by an average difference of -1.00 goals per encounter. And against the Netherlands, Bhaarath has a pathetic 0% win record and has lost by an average difference of -1.33 goals per encounter. And overall against the Big-3, Bhaarath has an abysmal 10.71% winning record and has lost by an average difference of -1.00 goals per encounter.

Pakistan (Table B) has a 26.67% winning record against Australia and has lost to them by an average of -1.40 goals per encounter.  Against Germany, Pakistan has a 13.33% winning record and lost goal average of -0.80 per encounter.  And against the Netherlands these figures translate to 22.22% and -1.44 lost goal average per encounter. And overall against the Big-3, Pakistan has a not-so-great 20.83% winning record and has lost by an average difference of -1.23 goals per encounter.

South Korea (Table C) has an 18.18% winning record against Australia and a losing goal average of -1.45 per encounter.  Against Germany, their winning record drops to 7.14% but their goal average difference of loss narrows to -0.71 per encounter.  Against Holland, South Korea displays a bit of an anomaly. Their winning percentage shoots to 46.67% and they show almost a neutral overall average goal difference of -0.07 per encounter (at least one Asian statistic in this context is coming close to equality).  But overall against the Big-3, South Korea also has an unflattering 25.00% winning record and has lost by an average difference of -0.68 goals per encounter.

And the combined Asian performance (Bhaarath + Pak + S Korea) against the Big-3 (Table D) again shows a low 19.83% winning percentage and a -0.98 average losing goal difference per encounter.

So what do all these tables and stats tell us.  Two decades plus of stats certainly do not lie here.  We are certainly witnessing a phenomenon here and the Asian hockey nations need to sit and take a deep note.  We need to seriously question the FIH regarding its decision to permanently abrogate grass as a playing surface; a surface which gave rise to great Asian hockey wizards in times old. The loss of grass has stifled our natural flair and talent in this regard.  And we HAVE to bring the FIH to the discussion table with immediate effect before the situation goes to an absolute point of no-return.  Being as it is, the turf has already skewed the game completely in the favor of the Europeans and Australians, especially when the game goes to very high gears in high stakes tournaments. The only recourse for Asian hockey is to play desperate fight-to-the-death hockey when engaging the Big-3 at these big tourneys.  They have to score more goals by breaking their (Big-3's) steel curtain defence and defend like there is no tomorrow. But that is just making the slope of the cliff steeper; a death-cliff which has been created almost three decades ago by the cursed Astroturf for Asian hockey.  And the situation is just akin to coaxing blood out of stone.

 

Table A: Bhaarath against the Big-3 since the 90s in the FIH World Cup, Olympics, and the FIH Champions Trophy

Country

Played

Won

Lost

Drawn

Goal For

Goals Against

Goal Difference

Winning Percentage

Australia

9

2

6

1

18(2.00)

24(2.67)

-6(-0.67)

22.22

Germany

10

1

8

1

11(1.10)

21(2.10)

-10(-1.00)

11.00

Netherlands

9

0

7

2

15(1.67)

27(3.00)

-12(-1.33)

0.00

Total

28

3

21

4

44(1.57)

72(2.57)

-28(-1.00)

10.71

Figures in brackets next to the goals are the average per total games played.

 

Table B: Pakistan against the Big-3 since the 90s in the FIH World Cup, Olympics, and the FIH Champions Trophy

Country

Played

Won

Lost

Drawn

Goal For

Goals Against

Goal Difference

Winning Percentage

Australia

15

4

10

1

25(1.67)

46(3.07)

-21(-1.40)

26.67

Germany

15

2

9

4

23(1.53)

35(2.33)

-12(-0.80)

13.33

Netherlands

18

4

12

2

30(1.67)

56(3.11)

-26(-1.44)

22.22

Total

48

10

31

7

78(1.63)

137(2.86)

-59(-1.23)

20.83

Figures in brackets next to the goals are the average per total games played.

 

Table C: Korea against the Big-3 since the 90s in the FIH World Cup, Olympics, and the FIH Champions Trophy

Country

Played

Won

Lost

Drawn

Goal For

Goals Against

Goal Difference

Winning Percentage

Australia

11

2

8

1

15(1.36)

31(2.82)

-16(-1.45)

18.18

Germany

14

1

9

4

27(1.93)

37(2.64)

-10(-0.71)

7.14

Netherlands

15

7

7

1

38(2.53)

39(2.60)

-1(-0.07)

46.67

Total

40

10

24

7

80(2.00)

107(2.68)

-27(-0.68)

25.00

Figures in brackets next to the goals are the average per total games played.

 

Table D: Bhaarath-Pak-S Korea combined against the Big-3 (Aus-Ger-Nld) since the 90s in the FIH World Cup, Olympics, and the FIH Champions Trophy

Country

Played

Won

Lost

Drawn

Goal For

Goals Against

Goal Difference

Winning Percentage

Big-3

116

23

76

18

202(1.74)

316(2.72)

-114(-0.98)

19.83

Figures in brackets next to the goals are the average per game.

 For all the tables, data from some tournaments is missing.

The statistics includes the recently concluded 2012 London Olympics.

 

Dr. Sivaram Hariharan aka Shiva IYER

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