With hope of a new dawn | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 11, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 11, 2017

With hope of a new dawn

Thirty two years is a long time. It's a long time for a game to go through a sea-change and get a new world order in place.

Thirty two years ago in 1985, as world hockey was shifting from grass to artificial turf and the change of guard it brought along, Bangladesh were awarded the rights to host Asia's biggest competition – the Asia Cup.

The country was not quite prepared at that time as hockey was still only a game that used to be played in small pockets, especially around the old part of Dhaka. The then Dhaka Stadium was the venue for the nine-team competition. There were no floodlights at the big bowl and artificial turfs in these parts of the world were still a thing of future.

Yet that competition proved to be a milestone in the country's hockey history, for it witnessed the emergence of the game as the second most popular one, right behind football, thanks to the presence of superpowers like Pakistan and India, and of course a spirited performance by the hosts.

The Pakistan versus India final, eventually nicked by Pakistan 3-2, reportedly drew a record crowd for a hockey match at the big bowl.

While Bangladesh only managed a sixth place finish in the ten-team event, the performance of the team led by Shahabuddin Chaklader gave hope to the nation. The hosts drew against higher-ranked Japan and China sides and suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat against the then all-conquering Pakistan side, a result which still stirs emotions among hockey veterans and the game's followers.

The upshot of the event was that the game started to be taken up by youngsters from a wide spectrum of the population. Bangladesh eventually reaped the rewards of this popularity with two good outings in the Hiroshima Asia Cup (1994) and the Kuala Lumpur Asia Cup (1999). While they did not cause any major upsets, once in a while the team came up with sparks during that period.

Unfortunately the game's local governing body failed to cash in on the upsurge of popularity due to its continuous infighting, and as a result, performance on the pitch continuously fell short of expectations – taking the game back to mediocrity, and even at times, to obscurity.

While Bangladesh took a backseat, world hockey moved fast, constant with the fast-paced nature of the surface and the fast-changing rules of the game. Even though India and Pakistan had lost their world supremacy some time ago, they are still trying hard to stay relevant at the top level, and often produce inspiring performances against the powerhouses. South Korea, too, fight shoulder to shoulder with the big boys on the world stage.

Bangladesh, on the other hand, are struggling to stay afloat at the lowest rung of the top-tier of Asian hockey. The hosts come into this competition as the lowest-ranked side and have a task at hand if they are to meet their desired result of a sixth-place finish.

There are good signs though that some positive movements have taken place in the local hockey quarters in recent times. The top league has again resumed after a considerable gap and there has been various other tournaments taking place. The Maulana Bhasani Hockey Stadium has got a face-lift. The old green turf has been rolled out last year, replaced by a new blue one. Floodlights and a giant screen have been added to the facilities and a dormitory has been set up for the players' accommodation. The administrators seem to be getting their act together finally.

With the Asia Cup coming to Bangladesh for the second time, the game's local governing body now has the onus on it to not let go of the opportunities yet again. It is much as it's effort as well as the performance of the team that may decide which direction our hockey will head in the next decade.

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