The elusive hockey World Cup arrives | Latest News India

NEW DELHI

Till 1974, Ashok Kumar was too embarrassed to show his rich haul of bronze and silver medals from the Olympics, World Cup and Asian Games to his father. Being the son of Dhyan Chand, a three-time Olympic champion and probably the greatest player to have played hockey, wasn’t easy — primarily why he kept his father’s name of him out of his of him.

But that changed on March 15, 1975. It was on that day India went on to clinch their only World Cup crown with Kumar scoring the all-important winning goal — the most significant of his career — to give his team a 2-1 victory over arch-rivals Pakistan in the final at Merdeka Stadium, Kuala Lumpur.

“Obviously we were swarmed by people at the New Delhi airport,” recalls Kumar, 71. “In those days, people could come inside the airport, right up to the plane. We debarked on the shoulders of our fans. Even the ministers who came to receive us were dancing. ”

But for Kumar the moment of truth came when he returned home to Jhansi and met his father. “I touched babuji’s (father’s) feet. Without saying anything, he patted me on my back. That was the impact and value of a gold medal that the greatest player the sport has seen finally showed his appreciation for my achievement. ”

The journey to gold wasn’t easy. Having lost 1-2 to Argentina, India faced West Germany in a do-or-die final group game which they eventually won 3-1. The semi-final was tougher against Malaysia. With a partisan crowd behind them, the hosts went ahead twice in the match and India had to rally to win 3-2 in extra time.

Pressure was on India to perform in the final. The team had lost the 1973 World Cup final to Netherlands via penalties in Amstelveen. They had also gone down to Pakistan a year earlier in the final of the Tehran Asian Games.

The Ajit Pal Singh-led team did not leave any stone unturned for victory this time, visiting a temple, mosque, church and gurudwara on the eve of the contest. On match day morning, an Indian living in Malaysia met team manager Balbir Singh Sr, a three-time Olympic champion, requesting him to give a small yellow piece of cloth to all the Indian players for good luck.

“It was a totka (superstition) but nobody wanted anything going against them that day. We kept it in our pockets, ”says the 71-year-old Kumar.

Kumar was also known in his team, and among the Pakistani team members, as a good singer and was regularly requested to sing. One such instance took place just before the final when Pakistan captain and two-time World Cup winner Islahuddin Siddiqui asked him to sing.

“We knew Ashok could sing so we used to make him sing all the time and that time ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar’ was a popular number. Ashok started left-in and was standing opposite to me before the whistle blew. I said Ashok ‘gaana gao’ and he looked at me surprised, saying the final is about to start! But nevertheless, he straightened his stick, started beating it and sang ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar’ after which the game began, ”three-time Asian Games gold medalist Islahuddin had told this correspondent in an earlier interview.

The light-hearted mood vanished once the final commenced and got tense after Mohammad Zahid put Pakistan ahead 1-0 in the 18th minute. But that did not deter India who launched a fine attack in the second half with Surjit Singh leveling the contest in the 44th minute.

Spurred on by the 50,000 strong crowd, India made several deep raids into the Pakistan circle with Kumar finally converting a pass from Victor Phillips in the 51st minute. The ball hit the inside edge of the right post after crossing the line and rebounded into play. The umpire blew for a goal, the Pakistan team protested but had to accept the decision.

Minutes later, the stadium erupted when skipper Ajit Pal raised the trophy after 15 days of tough competition.


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