India made its Olympic debut at the 1928 Amsterdam Games as one of the unknown entities in world hockey and reigned supreme for close to three decades winning eight gold medals, one silver and two bronze medals.
Changes in playing surface, public apathy and fierce competition on the world stage took the sheen off the game. But the achievements in hockey stand among the greatest in Indian sports history.
Here are the top five Indian hockey's greatest moments.
1928 Amsterdam Olympics Gold - Imperious Dhyan Chand
India was the first non-European country to gain an entry to the 1928 Amsterdam Games when hockey made a return to the Olympics. It served as a global announcement of India’s might as a hockey powerhouse and Dhyan Chand as the country’s first sporting icon.
India scored 31 goals and conceded none on its way to its first Olympic gold defeating host Netherlands 3-0 in the final. Dhyan Chand scored a brilliant hat-trick in the final match and finished the tournament with 13 goals from four matches.
1948 London Olympics Gold - Balbir Senior's emergence
The Indian team, led by mercurial winger Kishan Lal, set foot on English soil carrying the high hopes of an independent nation and the scars of the partition. Star forward Balbir Singh Senior, who had witnessed the horrors of partition while serving Punjab Police, had to deal with taciturn former peers Muhammad Shah Rukh, Ali Dara, Aziz-ur Rehman and Muhammed Khurram – who were now playing for Pakistan.
Despite several external pressures, the Indians did not put a foot wrong on the pitch as they outclassed Austria, Argentina and Spain to reach the semifinals. The Netherlands put up a good fight but India prevailed 2-1 to set up a final against England.
The Indians faced their colonisers of 200 years for the first time on August 12, 1948, as they walked on to a soggy pitch at the Empire Stadium at Wembley.
Skipper Kishan Lal and his deputy K.D. Singh ‘Babu’ decided to take off their shoes and play barefoot as they supplied a pass each for Balbir’s first-half brace. Trilochan Singh and Patrick Jansen added two more in the second half as India coasted to a 4-0 victory.
2002 Commonwealth Games Gold - The giant-killing machine
Indian women’s team was the dark horse going into the Manchester Games in 2002. The 1998 semifinalist finished third in Pool B behind England and New Zealand and had to go through the crossover match against South Africa to reach the semis. The team was down 0-3 by half time against the rampaging South Africans but roared back with four goals in the second half to reach the semis were New Zealand awaited.
Braving bad weather and controversial umpiring, Indian eves edged out their higher-ranked opponent 2-1 to seal their first Commonwealth Games medal. On August 3, 2002, M.K. Kaushik’s team took to the pitch against a strong England team which laid siege on the Indian goalpost for the first 20 minutes.
Despite the early pressure, Mamata Kharab and Sita Gossain scored from penalty corners in quick succession to put India 2-0 up before a controversial decision allowed England skipper Sarah Blank to pull one back.
England went level in the 45th minute through Jene Smith but was unable to find the winner as the regular time ended 2-2. India had the best of exchanges in the extra time and in the 78th minute, Mamata and Sita combined during a penalty corner to score the golden goal. The women’s team’s crowning achievement would serve as an inspiration for the beloved 2007 sports flick Chak De! India.
1975 Kaula Lumpur World Cup win - Ashok Kumar's redemption
For the Indian team travelling to Malaysia for the 1975 World Cup, the challenge was to stay afloat in a sea of new competition with its illustrious past weighing down like a rock tied around its neck. The burden was heavier on Ashok Kumar, son of legendary Dhyan Chand, who was haunted by the 1973 World Cup final defeat at the hands of The Netherlands.
Team manager Balbir Singh Sr, a triple-Olympic champion, built the team around the motto - 'Regaining world supremacy is our goal' – which was painted on the wall of team dormitory at the training camp.
India struggled in the group matches as it began with a tough 2-1 win against England, drew 1-1 against Australia and lost 2-1 to Argentina. However, big victories against Ghana and West Germany helped it top Pool B and qualify for the semifinal. India trailed host Malaysia twice in the semifinal before
Harcharan Singh’s goal in extra-time put Ajit Pal Singh’s men set up a final against arch-rival Pakistan. India was behind 0-1 when Mohammad Zahid scored for Pakistan in the 17th minute. Surjit Singh pulled the Indians level when he scored ten minutes into the second half. Fittingly enough, Ashok Kumar scored the winner in the 51st minute, making up for his miss in the 1973 final.
Pakistani players protested that the ball bounced off the goalpost, but the umpire deemed it a goal. Millions of Indians, tuned into their radio sets, celebrated wildly to Jasdev Singh’s legendary booming voice on All India Radio. It remains India’s only World Cup win till date.
2019 Olympics Qualifiers - Rani’s golden goal
Indian women’s hockey team was the underdog going into the two-legged Olympic Qualifier at home against USA. Its head-to-head record was 4 wins to America’s 22with the last win coming way back in 2016.
The first leg began with USA dominating the possession but a second-quarter goal from Lilima Minz opened the flood gates for India. Dragflicker Gurjit Kaur scored a brace while Sharmila Devi and Navneet Kaur added to the burgeoning scoreline.
Skipper Rani Rampal was the lynchpin in the attack as she set up three goals. Erin Matson kept USA in the hunt by converting a penalty stroke, as the first leg ended 5-1 in India's favour.
Staring down the barrel, USA staged a blistering fightback in the second leg by making it 4-0 before half-time and 5-5 on aggregate. During the half time, India head coach Sjoerd Marijne told his players to forget everything that had happened until then and prepare for a new match.
The clean-slate worked wonders for the Indian women who regained their stride, converting their passes into circle entries and came close on two occasions. With 11 minutes to go, Rani Rampal tilted the scales in India’s favour when she pounced on a rebound on the edge of the circle.
She paused for a moment, picked her spot and flicked the ball over the onrushing defenders and the goalkeeper’s outstretched arms into the top right corner of the net as the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar erupted.
Her goal sealed a 6-5 win on aggregate – Indian women’s team’s third Olympic appearance and its first-ever back-to-back qualification.
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