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When India meets Australia today at Bukil Jalil in the Azlan Shah Cup, the two of the most gifted of world hockey powers will be making an important land mark. When the two struggling teams in the ongoing annual Azlan competition meet, it will be their 75th meet.

Apart from mere statistics, what enthuse and endure the contests between the two gifted hockey nations have been an all pervasive asymmetry. From the point of view of performance that too. In the initial contests in 50 and 60s, it was India that overwhelmed the Australians, who despite long tradition of hockey, somehow shy of serious international commitments. Once did they start thinking of big, which coincided with them hosting their first Olympics in 1956 at Melbourne, the Aussies never looked back.

For the dominating Indians then, it’s Australia which halted their monopoly. Though such symptoms were visible in late 60s and early 70s, the coming of synthetic surface confirmed it. Australia has been the single most predator of India defeating them continuously and sometimes humiliatingly on synthetic turfs. Recent example: In 1995 and 1996 when Cedric was the India’s national coach, India did not lose any match with more than 2-goal margin, save Australia. At Berlin in the Champions Trophy, India lost the match at 5-0, biggest in Cedric’s tenure.

As Ric Charlesworth observed in `The Coach managing for Success’, one generation of Australians never won the Indians while the other generation never lost to them. This is what I meant asymmetry in their performances.

If Australia could halt the Indian’s march in the late 70s and since then, it was made possible because of their exemplary capacity to assimilate system and style of, interestingly, the Indian brand of game, which used to be just the epitome of modern hockey in those days.

In the process, the Australians have successfully developed their own style which the theoreticians consider a mix of Asian and European styles. Whatever it is, what counts is their ability to win which they exhibited quite often. It’s here Fred Browne’s observation counts. The Australian coach of Indian origin in his masterpiece, ‘Hockey the Game that grows’ observed: “The Indian style has been developed India. An Australian style will be developed by Australia. If one feels that the Indian style means good stickwork, short passing good anticipation, position play, etc, then Australian can and will, of they so desire, become as proficient as India – but it still will be an Australian style of play. Let players forget about the Indian style, and think about the game of hockey. We can, I know, learn much from other nations but let us apply that knowledge to develop Australian hockey”.

The string of successes that Australia have made in the international arena make the victory-starved Indians look awe of them, but at the same time the Indians can also take pride in contributing to the development of Australian hockey. Not many know the fact that after Independence many Anglo-Indians left India in troves in search of greener pastures. A quite lot of them settled in Western Australia. They helped shape the Australian hockey in 50s and 60s, and imbibed a sense of confidence in them to be able to face the might of the world. Some of the names that flash the mind in this context include Merv Adams, 1956 Olympic coach, and famous Pearce brothers.

Now, after having two decades of each of win-win and lose-lose situations, the India-Australia contests have come of age. Though statistics still load against India – they won 48 of the 74 matches – the duo’s contests have become competitive since late 90s.

India won the Perth 4-Nation before the 2000 Sydney Olympics, with Dhanraj Pillay’s 70th minute goal against Germany in the final. A couple days before that, India defeated Australia. At the Olympics, Mukesh Kumar posted the fastest goal of the Sydney meet against the hosts, which luckily for the Australians ended in a 2-2 draw. Rajinder’s India then defeated Australia 5-3 at Sydney 4-Nation final in June last year, five days after losing the Perth 4-Nation final conceding a goal in the last seconds from the hooter. Amsterdom Champions Trophy notwithstanding, India-Australia stand even as of now. The day India catches up with Australia, even in big occasions, hockey will have witnessed high quality hockey. Even when the Indians were on losing spree at Buit Jalil stadium in 2002 World Cup, they put up a spirited game against Australia. It is hoped this time too the fans witness a good contest between the two gifted nations on their landmark platinum meet.

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