When we went to take part in the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok, we remembered that India had won a hockey gold in 1966 under Shankar Laxman’s captaincy in the same city.
In 1998, training went off very well with M. K. Kaushik as the chief coach, M. R. Negi as assistant coach and Sajju Joseph the very capable trainer. The Indian Hockey Federation also invited Mervyn Fernandes to give a motivational talk. Kaushik urged us to seek divine blessings at a temple, church, gurudwara or mosque before leaving after attending a Sports Authority of India-arranged dinner party. I am referring to all this to make a point that unity among players could be seen even during preparations and these were also golden moments. Players wished success for the team, those selected and even those left out.
Reaching Thailand, we met many people who had watched India in 1966 and meeting them too was a golden moment. The matches went on smoothly till the final against South Korea, which went into penalties. I strongly feel India should have wrapped up the match in regulation time itself, but we missed many chances.
Ashish Ballal was to be replaced as goalkeeper for the penalty strokes. He had done enough in the earlier matches to build a reputation as a tough one to score against. I felt at least two saves could be expected from him and if our players scored, the gold was ours. I conveyed my thoughts to the coaches, using the freedom given by Kaushik to express my ideas as captain.
We won and celebrations started in the dressing room. Federation president K. P. S. Gill met each player and was witness to the medals ceremony. We danced the night away in the Games Village, leaving a few outsiders wondering if the nation had topped the medals tally.
A gold from hockey stands above other medals won, such is the emotion and prestige. As captain and top-scorer (11 goals and a place in the Asian All-Star team chosen later), I had chipped in to make our hockey family happy, with help from every member of the unit.
As told to Nandakumar Marar