The Hockey Interview with Ashish Ballal

The Hockey Interview with Ashish Ballal

no photo



Ours is one of the most successful hockey teams in the world with eight Olympic golds; but when it comes to the World Cups, our returns haven't been as great. SportsCafe, in its mini-series 'The Hockey Interview' tries to go back in time and talk to former World Cuppers to know what went wrong.

1990 Men's Hockey World Cup - Lahore
India Captain - Pargat Singh
India Coach - MP Ganesh
India Position - 10th
Results (Leagues)
India vs Soviet Union   1-1
India vs Argentina       3-5
India vs France           1-2
India vs Netherlands   3-5
India vs Australia        2-3
India vs Canada          2-1 (9th to 12th)
India vs Argentina       0-1
'Hum leke rahenge Azadi, hum leke rahenge Kashmir'. If someone told you, these slogans weren't chanted in India at a major university, you'd be in for the biggest shock of your life. 1990 was a tumultuous time for India not just politically but in the hockey arena as well. The team that went to Lahore, Pakistan, witnessed hostility of unimagined proportions, and the effects of it were for everyone to see. Team India, under skipper Pargat Singh could only win one, that too a classification battle against Canada, in the second last match.
We drew against the not-so-strong Soviet Union, lost miserably to Argentina, and were outplayed by France, the Netherlands, and Australia. But the writing was on the wall ever since the team reached other side of the border. The players were heavily guarded at all points, right from the airport, to the hotel, to the stadium, and were subject to abuses by the Pakistani crowds at all points. In one of the matches, bottles were hurled at the players too, but India kept playing, despite knowing the outcome.
"We went to Pakistan at the peak of the cold war between the two nations. Kashmir was a big issue; it was very tense and the government got a lot of warnings, not to send the team. When we reached the Lahore airport, I think it was pretty crazy to see we had three or four escort vehicles in front of us, then there were bikes too; behind us another four vehicles. It didn't feel like it was for the Indian national hockey team," recollects India goalkeeper from that edition, Ashish Ballal, who was playing in his first major tournament.
"Even though everything was pleasantly nice in the team hotel, but was the complete opposite in and around the stadium. The regular feature during our matches was the chanting of the slogans, ”hum leke rahenge azadi, hum leke rahenge Kashmir'. 
Winning was out of the question for a team whose morale was deflated for reasons, that had no connection with sport. But MP Ganesh, the coach of the team, just did not want to turn his back on the situation. The team management was also given an option by the FIH, to request for the tournament to be forfeited, but the team decided to fight on. "So imagine a hundred and ten thousand people shouting at you, throwing bottles at you, and stones too. The FIH asked the team management, if we wanted the tournament forfeited, because of the hostile crowd, but coach MP Ganesh wasn't in the favour of such a move. It was all very political."
But despite the poor results, the team did not return empty-handed. The young boys in the team were now men ready to take on the world, for the next few years, which also showed in the 1994 World Cup performance, where we finished fifth. Apart from that, the FIH also gave the team a Fair Play Trophy.  "You know and after that, it helped us to realise that it is not only about how much you practice from the ground but how to be mentally fit, how to be strong, how to take the pressure. All that really helped the team do well in the coming years."

Get updates! Follow us on

Open all