On a hockey field, the goal scorers define make-or-break moments. Flipping through the history of India’s roller-coaster ride in the five-decade-old hockey World Cup, we pick five scorers who have left their mark by capturing key moments in the showpiece event. These iconic players fondly look back at the moments they scripted with the magic of their hockey sticks.
M. P. Ganesh
“We were totally demoralised (after our semifinal loss to Pakistan),” remembers right winger M. P. Ganesh about the inaugural edition of the global event.
With trouble brewing between India and Pakistan at the political level, a loss to the neighbouring country was a bitter pill to swallow.
So, the third place match against Kenya was an occasion to redeem some pride as losing to the African nation would have brought India the shame of finishing the prestigious event empty-handed.
The Kenyans provided tense moments to the Indians as the match was locked at 1-1 in the regulation period.
“Towards the end of the match, Harcharan (Singh), the left out, carried the ball. I went to the centre forward (position) and signalled to him to send the ball into the circle on his side (to the left inside position). I dashed and the goalkeeper also started charging. From there without stopping the ball, I just slipped it over his head and it landed inside the goalpost,” says Ganesh about his extra-time winning goal that saved India the blushes and earned its first medal in the World Cup.
B. P. Govinda
India was one of the best sides in this edition of the World Cup even though it lost to eventual champion and host, the Netherlands, via tie-breaker in the final.
But on its road to the final, one of the main roadblocks for India was its arch-rival Pakistan.
The neighbours met in the semifinals for the second consecutive time and a determined India exacted revenge. B. P. Govinda was the architect of the victory.
Following an hour of goalless action, Govinda, a gifted forward, ended the deadlock in the 62nd minute. It turned out to be the most important moment in the match.
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“The semifinal against Pakistan is one of the best matches of my life. I reverse-flicked the ball and the goalkeeper didn’t know where the ball was going. It went and hit the roof of the net. It was widely regarded as one of the best goals, by my teammates and the media,” recalls Govinda, who was also in the 1975 World Cup winning team.
1975, Kuala Lumpur
Left-winger Harcharan Singh delivered one of the three most important goals scored in the World Cup in 1975, the only time India won the title.
The semifinal against Malaysia was a high pressure match as India took on the home team in front of a packed house. The silver medallist of the previous edition trailed 1-2 and was under tremendous pressure before it bounced back through substitute Aslam Sher Khan’s goal in the closing minutes. It practically gave India a second lease of life!
But it was Harcharan’s strike off a V. J. Philips pass in the extra-time which sealed the fate of the match and paved India’s way to the gold medal match.
“We got goose-bumps when we first saw the trophy which was displayed in the team hotel. We thought that this has eluded us in the last two World Cups, and that it must not be the case again this time in 1975. We were extremely determined,” says Harcharan.
After a nerve-wracking semifinal against host Malaysia, India met rival Pakistan in the final. Pakistan took the lead in the 17th minute and Surjit Singh equalised in the 44th minute before Ashok Kumar came to the fore with a feat of his lifetime.
“It was just the boost we needed. We had support from the stands. We were all over Pakistan and then came the most precious moment of my life. V. J. Philips initiated the move on the right and relayed the ball to me. I hit the ball on the run and found the target, much to the delight of the team and our supporters,” Ashok reminisces.
“It was India’s first big title after the gold at the 1964 Olympics,” adds Ashok.
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While other goal scorers mentioned in this list made their names immortal in a moment, Rajinder Singh, a defender-cum-penalty corner expert, worked through the tournament to make his mark by becoming the only Indian to emerge as the top-scorer in an edition of the World Cup.
A member of the 1980 Moscow Olympics gold medal-winning side, Rajinder performed exceptionally well.
“I scored from the penalty corners primarily because of my skills. I used my wrist to give spin to the ball (and beat the opposition defence). Captain Surjit Singh was also a very good penalty corner expert, but he used to give me the chance as he was confident about my skills,” says Rajinder.
“We did well. In the last pool match we lost to Australia 2-1 and missed a chance to make it to the last-four. A draw would have taken us to the semifinals.
“I sounded the board in the last short corner I got, but the Argentine umpire first gave the goal and then disallowed it on technical grounds,” recalls Rajinder, who scored 12 goals.
India improved its showing a notch to finish fifth.