Sunday, 22 November 2009

The day when India was on top of the world



One of the greatest of days in Indian sport , to me THE greatest day in Indian sport, was the day in March , long ago, when India lifted the hockey World Cup in Kuala Lumpur. India beat Pakistan in the final to win the World Cup for the first, and alas thus far the only, time.

The greatest day was actually not the final win. By the day of the final, it seemed pre ordained that India would win. The day came on the semi finals, just a day earlier. India played Malaysia on their home soil It was on a rain sodden pitch early in the morning (those days they played hockey on natural turf). It was a classic, which will remain in the memory of every Indian sports fan who was around then. There was no TV , of course, so glued to the transistor radio, listening to Melville D’Mello and Jasdev Singh, we followed the match.

The Indian team was an all star team captained by the immortal Ajitpal Singh. I can still get the full team more or less right – Leslie Fernandez in goal, Surjit Singh and Michael Kindo the starting full backs, Virender Singh, Ajitpal Singh and Mohinder Singh the half backs and the forward line of Phillips, Ashok Kumar, Shivaji Pawar, Govinda and Harcharan Singh.

Malaysia were playing way out of their skin, in front of a partisan capacity crowd. They led 2-1 well into the second half. India was virtually camping in front of the Malaysian goal. But the equaliser eluded them. They forced penalty corner after penalty corner. Surjit Singh, who was usually brilliant in taking the corners, just could not score that day. His hits were being frantically saved, somehow. The commentators were besides themselves as corner after corner was taken. Govinda ne push kiya, Ajitpal ne roka aur Surjit ne hit kiya (in 1000 decibels) … lekin …. The goal would just not come.

I vividly recall the feeling of absolute gloom. Two years ago in the finals against the Netherlands, exactly the same thing had happened. India was sitting in front of the Dutch goal, but could not score the winner and ultimately lost in the tie breaker (heart breaker). Was it going to happen all over again ? Surely the fates wouldn’t be so unkind.

8 minutes to go. India made a substitution. They replaced Michael Kindo with Aslam Sher Khan. They continued to besiege the Malaysian goal. Got two more penalty corners. Surjit hit them hard and straight. And yet the goal would not come. 3 minutes to go. By then I had lost all hope and was in tears, with the transistor still glued to the ear. Melville D’Mello was commentating. Yet another penalty corner. This time Ajitpal signaled Aslam Sher Khan to step up. Surjit was having no luck today. Govinda went to the goal line to push. Ajitpal to stop and Aslam to hit. The push came, Ajitpal stopped it dead on top of the circle. Up stepped Aslam. Cracked it true and hard. GGOOOOAAALLLLL. Even the normally suave Melville D’Mello went berserk. India had equalized.

From then on it all seemed pre ordained. India duly got the winner in extra time. And in the finals against Pakistan the next day, it seemed inevitable that India would win. Even the Gods had decided that it was India’s turn this time. Ajitpal was majestic. Fittingly, Ashok Kumar, son of Dhyan Chand, the greatest hockey player of all time, got the winner.

India was on top of the world.

28 comments:

  1. ..the high of actually sitting in a jam packed stadium watching, screaming and rooting for a team u want to win.. i felt that way reading ur post..
    nice post :)

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  2. Savitha22/11/09

    Surprised at how well you remembered E.V.E.R.Y detail, names of the players,what position each took, etal. Superb commentary!!After 35 years?

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  3. I did not realize, i was actually biting my nail as i was reading thru your post. Fabulously capitivating style of writing. actually lived the match in your words.

    If you ask my father and his brothers about the indian cricket world cup win, they would share a similar experience, their father was on death bed in my house, all the brothers were together and waiting, seeing his collapse by the moment and India was playing its best ever stroke in cricket. India lifted the cup and my grandfather completed his life time shortly after. some memories are very special.

    the sad part however is that despite india being the second-most populous country, and the most populous democracy in the world, we still have a few memories to cherish like this.

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  4. What a vivid memory! It must have been all the more exasperating for those listening to the transistor as you have no clue what to expect next.

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  5. @AJCL - Yeah it was a scintillating match. Thanks

    @Savitha - This post was triggered by you and AJCL remembering things of long ago. Won't tell you what age I was then when this happened(I was a baby OK - Sri is teasing me about being age appropriate !!), but some memories like this stand out .

    @sandhya - Thanks for the kind words. Yes 1983 was another such moment, but that's of course very well chronicled. Another such moment was Moscow 1980 when India won the Olympic gold in hockey. A real pity that neither the World Cup win nor the Olympic win was captured on tape. Only memories to cling on to.

    @Durga - Oh yes - listening to the radio commentary was something. We could almost "see" the game. Those were the days ...

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  6. Phew! Breath Taking Read!

    It must be of a time when I was not born. Alas, that was the last time India made it to world cup finals (infact the semis). I do recall childhood memories of rooting for the likes of Pargat Singh and Dhanraj Pillay when 1983 world cup win and 1985 B&H series win had already deepeded cricket's root in "gali-nukkad" of India. What we have witnessed in last two decades is exponential growth for cricket which has somewhat turned this game into an industry. With due respect to cricket (I have been a cricketer), I do hope that we offer due recognition and affection to unsung and deserving heroes/ games. To mark this, nothing can be a more fitting than a final win for India in 2010 when New Delhi hosts world cup hockey just tha way Kabir Khan's team DID IT!!!

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  7. @VA - Yes, before your time, and very much hoping for some joy when the world cup comes to Delhi next year. But then the game is not hockey any more - played virtually in water , with all the artistry of the game taken away by rile changes, I can't relate at all to this game. Did you play hockey as well ??

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  8. No, I did not play hockey at all. Though, I had seen people using hockey sticks for gang-war during school/ college time ;-) !

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  9. kiwibloke22/11/09

    Brilliantly written, almost brought the whole match in front of my eyes. Sadly even after this glorious win, our hockey players were treated like dirt compared to the prima donnas in cricket. Combine this with the advent of higher performing game on astroturf (remember the legendary Aussie Rick Charlesworth), better gear, shoes etc to which the Indian team had no access, hockey died a natural death. The subtlty of dribble, quick change of pace and direction gave way to the brute force of the power game of today. Rest is history

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  10. @kiwi - Thanks. There was no money in hockey - they tried the equivalent of the IPL, but there isn't mass following of hockey any more. Charlesworth is surely the best modern hockey player while Dhyan Chand was the star of the old. Charlesworth emobdied the best of both types of hockey - he could hit and run and yet could feint and drivbble with the best of the Indians and Pakistanis.

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  11. Sport is the strength for a nation. Thank you for your wonderful writting with the photo. I learned from there......

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  12. I second Savi, how well u narrate and remember every detail! Lovely! Felt like living through chak de india, I wish we could win a world cup again.

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  13. Awesome post Ramesh ... perfect walk down memory (imaginary) lanes for the reader ... love your Sunday posts .... even more !!

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  14. magnificent post..flawless thrilling right from the beginning till the end. I bow to your finger strokes. Well, it's indeed pathetic to realize that we came to a stage where we are looking for MNCs to sponsor our beloved National Game.. Hope our Merciful gods / goddesses will re-write the destiny of hockey..AMEN!!

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  15. Exkalibur66623/11/09

    Great post Ramesh, loved reading it. I can only think of one moment rivaling this one.. when Vishy Anand won the Chess world cup for the first time...

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  16. @Dave - Thanks. Of course China has many many such moments to savour. But the womens volleyball gold in Athens must surely rank at the very highest - what a match against Russia.

    @Sri - Chak de India, indeed. maybe, just maybe, 2010 in Delhi

    @blogueur - Thanks so much

    @Exkalibut - Thanks. Yes, Anand winning that was another glorious moment.

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  17. @LG Thanks very much for the kind words. Indian hockey has really disappeared - which school kid do you see these days playing hockey ?

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  18. My father used to play hockey for his regiment team and I once asked him why was he so passionate about hockey out of all the games! :) (we were cricket/ basket ball-stricken kids those days). And this was the match he told me about. I took it in that time, like a discourse coming from your dad, but now I can truly see what he meant. I am anyways a little tilted towards sports and anything to do with it, so a 'hip hip hurray' for this one! :)

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  19. It is so exhilarating when our sports teams win - it brings out a strong sense of pride for one's country in such a positive way. 'Twas a gripping read. I even had to look down the screen for the bolded "GOAL" :)

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  20. I have played lot of hockey during my school days and I could relate to some of the excitement of this great game. Thanks for sharing this post.

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  21. @Deepa - Wow - he recalled that game too ? It was truly something special those days.

    @J - Yes, there's nothing like sport to make you feel good about your country.

    @Adesh - You played hockey ? I salute you my friend. Its a very very special sport.

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  22. Dear Ramesh, I remember this game vividly. It was morning our time in school in Delhi, and may be my memory is playing tricks. I remember sitting with the "bad boys" who brought radios to school and listening to the game. AIR used to relay the shortwave transmission on MW, so the voices did sound like something out of ether.. Still remember Aslam Sher Khan's goal... what a day.

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  23. It was a sad time when india and pakistan could not see eye to eye and allowed the European Hockey Feds to change the game to astroturf. that marked the beginning of the end. These days it is a watersport, which means it is hard to play it in India with its shortages and climate. Remember that old sardar in Ahmedabad who used to dribble past four defenders in a ten sq yard area? that was real hockey, these days it is hit and run hockey played like football. I also have this memory of Jasjit Singh describing India's forward line " Achi taal mel ke aage badhte hue, govinda ne pass kiya ashok kumar ko...". An innocent time.

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  24. Anonymous24/11/09

    Wow ... what a beautiful recapture!! I felt as though I was listening to that transistor! I have never followed hockey but I guess it is quite exciting! :)

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  25. The anonymous comment above was from me!
    :D :D Clicked the wrong option!

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  26. Enjoyed the commentary...the commentator's passion for the game shone thru:-)).

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  27. @Dada - I knew you would remember that game. Oh yes, the hockey of the yester years was a different romantic game. Its now becaome an ugly water sport.

    @thoughtful train - Thanks. Was a fascinating game. Is no longer, alas.

    @Reflections - Yes I used to play hockey and was a passionate follower.

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  28. Anonymous15/9/11

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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