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Ashok Kumar Reminisces Improbable 1975 Hockey World Cup Victory

By: Madhav Agarwal

Edited By: Shayne Dias

News18 Sports

Last Updated: November 24, 2018, 14:24 IST

Ashok Kumar Reminisces Improbable 1975 Hockey World Cup Victory

A tournament that was full of ups and downs, the night of March 15 at the Merdeka Football Stadium in Kuala Lumpur just cannot be described in words, where India beat arch-rivals Pakistan 2-1.

"...Aur ye free hit mila 25 gaj ki doori se dayen flank par Pakistan ke Iftikhar ko. Aur ye hit lagaya, ab gend Akhtar Rasool ke pass. Gend Bharat ke D mein bayi or se jahan chaukanni hai poori team. Aur Ajit Pal ne khoobsurti se gend apne D se bahar kar di. Aur ye khel khatam. Bharat 2-1 se jeet gaya. Bharat vishwa hockey champion hai."

Even four decades after India lifted the Hockey World Cup in 1975, the voice of legendary commentator Jasdev Singh describing the winning moments in the final against Pakistan still reverberates in the minds of millions of Indians.

"I'm so proud that I was part of the team that won the World Cup in 1975. I just threw the stick in the air. And I just didn't know what was happening as the jubilant crowd swarmed us," recalls Ashok Kumar, son of 'Hockey Wizard' Major Dhyan Chand and member of the World Cup winning team in Malaysia.

A tournament that was full of ups and downs, the night of March 15 at the Merdeka Football Stadium in Kuala Lumpur just cannot be described in words, where India beat arch-rivals Pakistan 2-1.

It all started with Pakistan's Muhammad Zahid Sheikh striking in the 17th minute of the first half that gave neighbours a 1-0 lead. Then in a pulsating situation, the equaliser came from star defender and penalty corner specialist Surjit Singh in the 44th minute. With scores level at 1-1, Ashok Kumar hit the final nail in the coffin in the 51st minute, giving India a 2-1 lead.

"It wasn't easy", as Ashok Kumar remembers it. "We were trailing by one goal for major part of the match. In half time I had a heated exchange with Ajit Pal, who thought the match was out of our grasp. But then I was the one who told him we still have 35 minutes and we can win it. And the rest is history. We played like a dream."

"I remember our manager Balbir Singh was superstitious. Before the final, he put small pieces of cloth in our pockets as good luck. Maybe that helped us win,” he laughs.

But his winner that sealed the victory for India came with it's own share of controversy. The shot that was taken of a rebound, Pakistanis contested, had not crossed the goal line. But Malaysian umpire G. Vijaynathan eventually did award the goal to the Indians.

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"It was a clean goal. Pakistanis did protest, and what else they could have done. Umpire G Vijaynathan was a little slow in blowing his whistle, and that created a doubt in the mind of the Pakistanis. But I was totally sure that I had scored."

One could only imagine what would have transpired on the field after Ashok Kumar's shot got past Pakistani keeper. He recalls vividly, "Shivaji Pawar and Mohinder Singh came and kissed me on my cheeks after I scored. That was one of the biggest moments of my life."

What made the World Cup triumph even more special was how India literally fought their way through every match, be it the shock loss against Argentina or narrow come-from-behind win against hosts Malaysia. And Ashok Kumar has a tale to tell for each of those games.

"It was a very bad defeat for us (against Argentina). The manager and coach were taking it easy in the match. They substituted me fairly early in the match. And unlike these days, it wasn't possible for a player to come back after being substituted. It was because of this move that the side suffered. Our right wing wasn't able to make any movement. PE Kaliah didn't have the best of days. Somehow we ended up losing the match.

"After that loss we had to start all over again. We discussed the strategy among the players only. Players like Virender Singh, Ajit Pal Singh and I used to have discussions after every match," Ashok Kumar added.

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Asked about the reason behind India's struggle against then weak nations like Argentina and Malaysia -- India won 3-2 against hosts in semis -- he just has bizarre selection policy to blame. This topic touched his nerve.

The ex-Olympian feels that India could have won the gold medals in three successive events – the 1970 Bangkok Asiad, the 1971 World Cup and 1972 Munich Olympics if they had fielded their best forward line.

"Sometimes weird selection and policies used to make the difference. So in 1972 Olympics, we had some names that didn't have to be there but were selected to please every state; that's how it used to work back in the day. To add to that, there was a change in positions for some players. I was an established inside right player, but the management decided to field me at inside left.

"Inam-ur-Rehman was left out of the squad, who was a brilliant inside left player.

"In 1971, we had a team of mostly college players. Whereas in 1973, we were unfortunate to be on the losing end, when we were leading by two goals against Pakistan."

But keeping aside those disappointments, the 68-year-old goes back to the time when the Indian players had become the toast of the nation overnight.

"We went to Singapore from Malaysia where the Indian High Commissioner hosted a party for us. We used get an Allowance USD 8, but then MA Ramaswamy, then president of the IHF gave us USD 50. That was a big thing for us. And finally we headed to Chennai and I have never seen a procession like that in my life. It was something big."

But one incident that stands out in his memory is,when he showed the gold medal to his father.

"My mother came to take me to the Jhansi Railway station. As I entered the house, Bauji (father) was standing at the entrance. He saw my medal and patted my back. That was the first time I ever showed a medal to him, as that was first gold in such a big competition."

"I will cherish that World Cup victory forever," he signed off.

first published:November 24, 2018, 14:20 IST
last updated:November 24, 2018, 14:24 IST