India could not progress beyond the quarter finals at the Hockey World Cup 2018- which concluded in a dramatic final during the weekend. The young Indian team lost 2-1 to the Dutch in a closely-fought match. The emotions- the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ that the team evoked- are what made the sport so special.

Everyone should try hockey at least once. The fundamental premise of the sport is that a lifeless stick, slightly curved at the bottom, becomes an extension of your body, and lives and breathes like your arm and palm.

There is a similarity with football, in that sense, and with cricket. Where a lifeless object is supposed to sing to the tunes of feet, hands or even fingers. 

I played football, badminton and cricket in school at Gandhinagar, Gujarat. In a quirk of fate, the city of Gandhinagar boasted of having the second hockey turf ground in India after Chandigarh. Rawat Sir, the sports teacher at Kendriya Vidyalaya was a plump, former wrestler, and he brought his friends (coaches) from Sports Authority of India (SAI), to introduce us to hockey.

What looked like fun and easy after-school classes, suddenly, had more than a little value. These also enabled us to access the turf ground at SAI, which was the reality check that our young minds were not prepared for. It is tough, very tough indeed, to play on Astroturf. Sadly, my innings with hockey were cut short due a birth condition in my arm that would restrict me from ever going beyond school-level of the sport.

Ever since, hockey has lived side by side with football and cricket in school. As I grew older, hockey receded somewhat in the background (in hindsight, it was probably aided by the lack of hockey on TV and rise of Sachin Tendulkar in cricket- a world beater) and cricket became that which jangled my nerves. 

Childhood never dies entirely. Some of it remains buried somewhere in corner of the heart or mind. The opportunity to watch hockey came up again during the 2010 Hockey World Cup and the India Pakistan Hockey Test Series around the same time. I found only one other person to go with me who had played some hockey in school. 

I have grown up largely devoid of hockey, barring the occasional big matches on TV. But the magic of the sport survived the blitzkrieg of cricket and football on television. An advertisement in the Times of India using hockey a few years back beautifully showed that hockey memories remain to lie below the cacophonous modern times and just need rekindling. The movie, Chak de India, tapped into that feeling, and brought genuine street credo to hockey again. Now, with avenues of ‘tasting’ and ‘feeling’ hockey growing, it is sure to acquire new fans and rekindle memories for old fans.

The movie helped us relive the excitement of the sport in which India has an illustrious history in the Olympics, unmatched by any other team. Six consecutive gold medals, eight overall- this is still what makes the heart of sports fans swell with pride.

So, when I was handed over the responsibility to tie in the Hockey World Cup for Coca-Cola in India along with Sukhbir Chimni, I learnt about the hockey fans in our own office. Sukhbir has been an accomplished hockey player and comes from an illustrious hockey family. You just have to dig a bit and you will definitely find hockey fans around you. In fact, the partnership of Coca-Cola with the Hockey World Cup 2018 in Bhubaneshwar was run by bunch of hockey fans.

Hockey is a sport like that. Not only does it challenge you to bring alive a dead stick as an extension of your body, the sight and sound of stick and ball crackling never ever leaves you.

If you don’t believe me, you should try hockey at least once.