Hockey (or at least a rudimentary version of it) is one of the oldest games in the world. Historical evidence demonstrates that the game was played in countries like Iran and Egypt as far back as 2000BC. There is evidence to suggest that most civilisations – including the Aztecs, Romans and Greeks – all enjoyed a primitive version of hockey.
However, it wasn’t until the 18th century that the modern game took on a life of its own. The growth of hockey is largely attributed to the rise of English public schools like Eton. The first official Hockey Association was founded in 1876 in the UK. By 1886, no less than nine founding member clubs were competing regularly.
Coincidentally, India came under direct British rule at around the same time, with Queen Victoria officially taking the title ‘Empress of India’ in 1858. The influence of the British Raj over the following decades would cement the popularity of hockey as a pastime in India. While the game might not have garnered the same level of popularity as another British export – cricket – it’s still widely enjoyed throughout the country to this day.
The formation of the Hockey India League
The first professional field hockey league in India was formed in 2013 and is considered one of the major sports organisations in the country. Hockey India League, or HIL, is made up of six teams. The regular season takes place over two months (January and February) with each team playing each other twice (for a total of ten games).
At the end of the season, the top four teams in the league enter a play-off, where the final championship game of the season decides the Hockey India League winner for the year. The league is currently comprised of the following franchises:
• Dabang Mumbai
• Kalinga Lancers
• Delhi Waveriders
• Punjab Warriors
• Uttar Pradesh Wizards
• Ranchi Rays
How hockey is played
While there are several variations on the game, field hockey generally involves two teams of eleven players pitted against one another. The aim of the game is to propel the ball towards the other team’s goal with a stick. The team with the most goals at full-time wins. While the game is physical, it is classed as a non-contact sport. The standard hockey pitch measures 100 yards in length by 60 yards in width.
Games take place over two 35-minute halves, with a five-minute break during half-time. The game is controlled by two umpires.
Indian hockey players of note
Dhyan Chand (1905-1979) is considered to be one of the finest hockey players of all time. Chand, who was born in Allahabad, is fondly remembered for his incredible ball control, which earned him the nickname “the wizard”.
During Chand’s heyday, India took home three Olympic gold medals in three consecutive tournaments (1928, 1932 and 1936 respectively). At the 1936 games, he scored three goals (known as a ‘hat-trick’) during a fantastic 8-1 defeat of Germany in the Olympic final.
Other Indian hockey greats include Udham Singh, Dhanraj Pillay, Leslie Claudius and Balbir Singh Jr.