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How the invention of synthetic turf ended Indian sub-continent's superiority in world hockey

  • Published at 05:28 pm October 15th, 2017
  • Last updated at 05:35 pm October 15th, 2017
How the invention of synthetic turf ended Indian sub-continent's superiority in world hockey
Modern hockey was played on natural grass all over the world for around 100 years before the inclusion of the expensive synthetic turf in the second half of the 20th century. The synthetic turf has been a mandatory feature in every international event for more than two decades now. The exclusion of grass not only changed the characteristics of the game, as well as its equipments from sticks to ball, but also took world hockey's sheer dominance from the sub-continent to the west and beyond. From the root of stick-and-ball sports, the modern game of hockey developed in the latter half of the 19th century in Britain. The British Army took hockey to the colonised territories at around the same time the regional rulers under the British Empire, like the Nawabs of Dhaka, patronised the game in their respective locality. India adopted the game quickly and before partition they won every single Olympics gold medal in hockey from 1928 onwards, that too without losing any game. Even after partition, India continued their dominance till 1956 with Pakistan gradually becoming the former's only obstacle in world hockey.

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The two separated nations, including Bangladesh who were known as East Pakistan back then, played in three consecutive Olympics finals from 1956 to 1964. Change of power in world hockey came into notice the following decade with the introduction of the synthetic surface in the 1970s. This paved the way for significant changes in field hockey in favour of the wealthy western countries. The developing countries failed to afford the huge expense of the artificial turf, as well the significant cost and proper knowledge of its maintenance. As a result, the sheer dominance of India and Pakistan started to decrease gradually and wealthy nations like the Netherlands, Germany and Australia took over control of world hockey. Even in Asia, India and Pakistan's dominance was overshadowed with the rise of South Korea as a hockey powerhouse. India won eight gold medals in the Olympics before 1980 but after that, they failed to make it into the top-four in the next nine editions. The same happened in the World Cups. They won it in 1975 but in the following 10 World Cup editions, their highest finish was fifth. Pakistan followed a similar route to that of their neighbour. Pakistan won three World Cups by the year 1982 but managed only one in the next eight editions. After winning it in the previous edition, Pakistan failed badly in the 1986 World Cup, managing only one win against minnow New Zealand. They cited their failure to adjust to the astroturf surface, used in the World Cup for the first time instead of grass, for their disappointing finish. Having claimed three golds in the Olympics and as many Asia Cup titles by 1989, they failed to win any more titles from thereonin. In the last five World Cups starting from 1998, no countries from the Indian subcontinent managed to reach the semi-finals. The fields of natural grass, where hockey grew and developed for more than a century started to go extinct in almost all the international events from the late 1980s. The changes started effecting the regional competitions as well. The last time the Asia Cup was played on natural grass was back in 1985 and it was also the first time Dhaka hosted the event. Bangladesh couldn't participate in the 1990 Asian Games due to their lack of playing experience on the astroturf. The Maulana Bhasani National Hockey Stadium, the only hockey venue in Bangladesh that hosts international matches, was established in 1986 but it took the hockey federation 11 years to install green synthetic turf.

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But before that, the first time Bangladesh installed a synthetic hockey turf was back in March, 1990, in Savar's BKSP, informed veteran hockey organiser Yusuf Ali. These two are the only remaining hockey venues in Bangladesh which have artificial turf. World hockey switched from green synthetic turf to blue and the Maulana Bhasani National Hockey Stadium had to install blue turf, in December, 2014. Both India and Pakistan now have synthetic turf in almost every major city. India are going to host their second World Cup in eight years, after 2010, in Bhubaneswar next year. As for Bangladesh, with only two artificial turf, they have to go a long way yet before meeting the infrastructural standard required by world hockey.