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Success, off-field storms make 2015 eventful for Indian hockey

On-field achievements often jostled for space with off-field drama as Indian hockey endured a rollercoaster year during which the players scripted historical feats but coach Paul van Ass’ acrimonious ouster and Gurbaj Singh’s suspension created its share of storm.

While the women team’s return to Olympics after a hiatus of 36 years and men team’s 33-year-old medal jinx in a major international tournament -- Hockey World League (HWL) Final to be precise -- were the high points, Van Ass’ bitter sacking and experienced midfielder Gurbaj’s nine-month suspension summed up a mixed year gone by for Indian hockey.

Just like the past two years, 2015 started with the high-profile six-team franchise-based Hockey India League which witnessed a new champion in debutants Ranchi Rays, partly owned by cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Soon after India travelled to Ipoh, Malaysia for the six-nation Azlan Shah Cup, where they finished third after defeating South Korea 4-1 on penalties following a 2-2 draw. New Zealand claimed the title beating Australia 3-1 on penalties.

The Azlan Shah Cup was also Dutchman Paul van Ass’ maiden assignment with the Indian team since his appointment in January earlier this year. With a pretty decent start to his stint, Van Ass’ next assignment was the Hockey World League (HWL) Semi-final in Antwerp, Belgium. In HWL Semi-final, India put up an inconsistent show but managed to finish fourth losing 1-5 to Great Britain in the third-fourth place play-off match.

But a major controversy broke out after India returned from Antwerp as Van Ass was sacked unceremoniously just six months into his job following a bitter public spat with Hockey India president Narinder Batra. Van Ass’ future with the Indian team came under serious doubt after he failed to report on time for the national camp at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Shilaroo, Himachal Pradesh. The Dutchman also did not submit his report on India’s performance at the HWL Semifinals in Antwerp, Belgium.

Van Ass later told the media from Netherlands that he had been fired following his alleged spat with Batra after the quarterfinal match against Malaysia at HWL Semi-final.

After attack, counter-attacks from both sides, High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans was handed over the full charge of the men’s team till 2016 Rio Olympics and the Sardar Singh-led side then embarked on a 15-day tour of Europe.

During that, India defeated France 2-0 in a two-match series before beating Spain 2-1 in a four-game rubber.
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