Much like the Dream Team lined up by the USA in Basketball the past decade, there used to be a time when Indian hockey players lined up for a Gold Medal at every Olympics. Starting from 1928, for 36 years, the Indian Team won every Olympic Men’s hockey gold medal except one where they finished second. Led by that great wizard Dhyan Chand, India introduced the Indian Dribble to mesmerise opposing defences world over. To refresh our pedigree, some excerpts from Dhyan Chand’s profile, from Rohit Brijnath.
Dhyan Chand captained the Indian team in 1936 Summer Olympics final. His team had gone down to the Germans in a friendly match, shortly before the Olympics. But this time, India’s forward line was reinforced by the inclusion of Ali Iqtidar Shah Dara, who managed to reach Berlin just in time for the final.
In a patriotic note, they raised the Indian tricolour in the dressing room and sang Vande Mataram an Indian nationalist song, rather than the British national anthem, which they were obliged to sing.
Indians were leading 1-0 at the half time. In second half, they scored 7 goals. After trailing 0-6, the Germans are reported to have resorted to body play. In a clash with the German goalkeeper, Dhyan Chand broke one of his teeth. But the valiant Rajput returned to the field after first aid. When the match ended, his contribution in India’s 8-1 win was 6 goals.
The match was attended by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler who left midway as he couldn’t bear to see his "racially superior" team being demolished. Sensing something amiss, he was ordered to change his stick, but the flow of goals continued. India won the match 8-1, with Dhyan Chand scoring 6 goals. A reporter said about Dhyan Chand’s performance - "With a flick of the wrist, a quick glance of his eyes, a sharp turn and then another turn, and Dhyan Chand was through".
Adolf Hitler left his special box in a huff, after Germany’s rout. Next day, he invited him for a meeting the following day. Hitler asked Dhyan Chand what post did he hold in India. On learning that the hockey wizard was a mere Naik in the Indian army, Hitler offered to make Dhyan Chand a Field marshal should he decide to live in Germany. Dhyan Chand politely refused, saying that he had a large family to look after, in India
Dhyan Chand won a number of awards and accolades during his illustrious career. One of the most touching gestures came from the residents of Vienna, who built a statue of the Indian with four hands and four sticks, signifying his unparallel control over the ball. During a 1935 tour of New Zealand and Australia, he scored 201 goals out of the team’s tally of 584 in 43 matches. Don Bradman and Dhyan Chand once came face to face at Adelaide in 1935, when the Indian hockey team was in Australia. After watching Dhyan Chand in action, Don Bradman remarked "He scores goals like runs in Cricket" and it is a measure of this man’s innocence that he writes, "The picture of that meeting I will cherish all my life."
They say you can judge a man’s legend by the quality of myths that surround him. By that measure itself, Dhyan Chand was an extraordinary man. To hear tales of his craftsmanship was to wonder whether his stick was designed by Merlin himself. They broke his stick in Holland to check if there was a magnet inside; in Japan they decided it was glue; in Germany, Adolf Hitler even wanted to buy it.
Today, forget winning the Gold at Olympics, forget winning a medal in the Asian Games, we cannot even win a qualifying tournament, getting knocked out by 2 goals in 10 minutes to be ousted from the Olympics for the first time since Independence. The coach Joaquim and his support staff promptly resigned, Dhanraj and his fellow brethren felt like there was a death in the family, but KPS Gill, Nero-like, apparently needs more time.
Cry, my beloved country…