Floris Jan Bovelander stood outside the Kalinga Stadium chatting with former India goalkeeper AB Subbaiah and Odisha’s very own Dilip Tirkey.
The 1990 World Cup and 1996 Olympic gold medallist had no fancy VIP card hanging down his neck, neither he had a swanky car waiting to take him back to the hotel. He wasn’t even looking around for a favour.
“I will take a tuk-tuk (auto-rickshaw), absolutely sorted,” he said, speaking to the media representatives in front of a giant poster of Billy Baker outside the Kalinga Stadium.
“It’s huge, no?,” said the 51-year-old craning his neck upwards.
“The World Cup next year is the big one, and they (Hockey India and Odisha) are doing a good job. In Holland, I can think of just one such big hockey image on one of the buildings, but here all over the city you see big signs. So it’s really cool,” said Bovelander, who is combining his visit to India for a philanthropic hockey project by visiting Bhubaneswar to cheer for Netherlands at the Hockey World League (HWL) Final.
Over 200 goals in 241 international matches and almost guaranteeing his team of one whenever they earned a penalty corner for him, Bovelander made drag-flicks his territory – after Australia’s Jay Stacy innovated the skill in 1987.
Such was the man’s dominance that his goal-scoring prowess earned him the title Boem Boem Bovelander – the Bohemian.
Since then, the art has evolved, changing hands from Pakistan legend Sohail Abbas to India’s Jugraj Singh and now in the hands of Argentine sensation Gonzalo Peillat.
“These days every team has at least one good drag-flicker,” the Dutch legend, who is involved with a grassroot hockey project called ‘One Million Hockey Legs’, said.
“Argentina are the reigning Olympic champions and Gonzalo Peillat scores a lot of goals. So he’s at the moment the best, and also Netherland’s Mink (van der Weerden).”
Rupinder Pal Singh and Harmanpreet Singh are the current flag-bearers of the skill in India, after VR Raghunath opted out of national duty.
Without taking any of those names, Bovelander said what turns a good drag-flicker into a great one is the magnitude of resultant victory. “India has a couple of good ones but you have to score goals at the right moment. That makes you special and really good. You have to score in crunch games. Then you are good,” he said.
Of late, India has struggled with penalty corner conversion for most part of the year. Raghunath is no longer in the scheme of things, possibly mulling retirement. Rupinder got injured in June and is making a comeback at the HWL Final here.
In terms of youngsters, the crop is led by Junior World Cup-winners Harmanpreet Singh, Dipsan Tirkey and Varun Kumar, other than Amit Rohidas. All five are here for the tournament but yet to make their presence felt, besides the goal Rupinder scored against England.
But when you compare them to the likes of Peillat and Mink, the youngsters, and even the experienced Rupinder, are still some distance away from matching the consistency of the Europeans.
Hockey India has roped in Jugraj time and again as assistant coach to help improve penalty-corner essentials like injection, stopping and the drag-flick. But somehow the bar set by the likes of Bovelander has never been met.
The great man tried to reason that out.
He felt that growing penalty-corner conversion rate has also meant that teams have shored up their defence, which has raised the level of the contest.
“Defending (on penalty corners) is becoming better and better, especially with the suicide runner (rusher). It’s hard to score a direct goal. But in the end, good drag-flickers still create a goal,” Bovelander said.
Experiment with new formats, playing on grass
Just like he kept on reinventing himself through his career, the 51-year-old also feels that hockey needs to evolve to attract more fans and stay relevant to current times.
“It (astro turf) was introduced by us Europeans because it suited our style. India waited a bit too long to adopt it and thus lost precious time, but they are right up there now.
“But I would not mind bringing hockey back on natural grass at some level. In countries like Kenya in African, and also at some places here in India, the climate can at times be too hot to play on astro-turf that requires constant watering, which results in hot vaporization in that weather,” he explained.
And by change he meant not just in playing surfaces but also formats like the Hockey 5’s and mixed events.
“Hockey 5’s is catching up. It’s fast and engages the crowd. In mixed hockey, you can’t expect the same level from both men and women, because they are built differently. So that won’t be fair, but it has been introduced at some places,” he said.
He had to catch a tuk-tuk and thus required to make a move, but is already making plans to return to Bhubaneswar for the World Cup next year.
“I am in here for the ‘One Million Hockey Legs’ project, of course. I have to go to Ranchi and Jharkhand, for the Tata Hockey Academy programme, including coaching workshops.
“But I am happy to be in Bhubaneswar. It’s been a long time since I played, and I am already making arrangements for the World Cup next year.
“So I will be back, see you then,” he pushed off hands in pocket, whistling.