Korean coach Kim Sang-ryul out to make China a hockey power (Column: Just Sport)

Exciting things are happening in the world of hockey for the Indians to sit up and take note, rather than be preoccupied by the murky goings-on in Indian cricket.

China and Ireland played sensational hockey in the Bhubaneswar World Cup to wean the Indian sports fans away from the murky goings-on in cricket administration and also the prospects of Virat Kohli’s team in Australia.

Yet, one major daily ran a screaming banner underscoring Indian opening batsman Prithvi Shaw being ruled out of the first Test against Australia with an ankle injury and dismissed China’s feat in a paragraph, an add on to the Australia-Ireland match report!

Headlines or no headlines, 17th ranked China did the unthinkable, holding seventh-ranked England 2-2, which is as good as a win for them. Earlier in the evening, eighth-ranked Ireland made World No 1 Australia huff and puff for a 2-1 verdict. The previous night, another debutant France, the lowest ranked team in the tournament at 20, made New Zealand struggle for a 2-1 victory.

Coach Kim Sang-ryul is one of the benefits China got after the country established diplomatic relations with capitalist Korea in 1992. Renowned for his out-of-the-box thinking, the Korean quit after making his country a world hockey power and last night his new team China made their debut memorable at the Kalinga Stadium.

No one could miss his mischievous grin when his boys knocked in the equalizer barely a minute to go for the hooter after scoring first early in the game.

Kim, an Indophile, considered going over to India on a pilgrimage, he will always talk of the former India international the late Balkrishan Singh whenever he runs into an Indian media person. For him his hockey revolves around his guru, who taught him at the Netaji National Institute of Sports, Patiala, in the mid-80s.

The Korean implemented what Balkrishan used to say with great pride that he introduced to the Indian team the concept of ‘total hockey’ before the Barcelona Olympics.

Kim, like his teacher, initiated some daring concepts and the Koreans were willing to daringly do anything he wanted. He is known to be quick on fuse and no wonder he quit Korea and came to China a decade ago. And he found the raw material for his team from the warrior tribes of Inner Mongolia.

The ethnic Daur tribesmen have been playing Beikou, a game similar to field hockey, from the time Genghis Khan created the Mongolian empire. On field, they are not dour, they are dashing and their speed and energy somewhat cover up for the high skills required at this level.

The Chinese started playing modern hockey somewhere in the 70s and played in the 2008 Beijing Olympics as hosts. Soon they brought in youngsters playing overseas to raise a formidable side with that warrior spirit.

Yet, the Chinese federation did not send the team to the Asian Games in Jakarta because it thought the team had no chance of winning a medal! That’s how the teams attain the standards, aiming big. He is looking to take his team as far as possible in this World Cup.

Back to cricket, the Indian cricket board is still in a zap as to how to resolve the imbroglio created by Mithali Raj-Harmanpreet-Ramesh Powar and the Indian team’s composition for the first Test at Adelaide.

Both Mithali and Powar had their say while Harmanpreet has sensibly not gone public with her version. It’s time the two-member Committee of Administrators (CoA) allowed the board to manage its affairs. The players at least fear the board officials. Any action, like Diana Edulji going to the media on what happened in far away West Indies, will only complicate matters.

The Board officials should get the three around and tell them what they think of the mess they created, making sure such a farce is not re-enacted, more so overseas. It has already done irreparable damage to women’s cricket.

The men’s team has completed a warm-up game that saw their young gun Prithvi Shaw badly hurting his ankle, serious enough to keep him out of the Adelaide Test.

The batsmen have done well, the new opening pair Murali Vijay and Lokesh Rahul looked good with their century opening stand in the second innings after all the other top-order batsmen getting runs in the first dig.

The only issue is whether to play Hanuma Vihari as the sixth batsman or Rohit Sharma. It’s a no-win situation for captain Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri. Whoever is picked should come good to justify his selection. Hanuma got to bat in both the innings and he did not do anything to harm his chances. If he gets in it is because of his off-spin bowling to go with his batting.

Rahul, after missing out in the first knock, scored 62 while Vijay went on to make 129, hitting 26 off a single over from off-spinner Jake Carder. Both the openers have hundreds in Tests in Australia on their previous visits.

Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav had bowled 20 overs each of pace and Ravichandran Ashwin 30 plus overs spin. The question is whether Bhuvneshwar Kumar gets to play and who goes out for him. Shami is clearly a Test class bowler anywhere while for sheer pace Yadav comes in and Ishant can plug away getting some bounce with his height. The lone spinner could well be Ashwin looking at the number of left-handers in the Australia team.

There is still time to ponder before the Test gets under way on Thursday.

(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at sveturi@gmail.com)