On this day: Balbir Singh Sr. magic gives India fifth Olympic hockey gold

India clinched its fifth successive hockey gold medal at Olympics, as Balbir Singh Sr. starred with five goals against the Netherlands in Helsinki, 1952.

Skipper Babu receives the gold medal after India beat Holland in the hockey final of Helsinki Olympics.   -  The Hindu Archives

India won the Olympic Hockey Championship and thus retained the world title, which has been theirs for the last quarter of a century, beating Holland decisively by six goals to one in the final played at the Helsinki Olympic hockey ground, Finland. The match was a personal triumph for Balbir Singh, the Indian centre-forward, who scored five goals for his country.

The Indian forward line moved in accordance with a carefully prepared plan, which was brilliantly executed by the skipper K.D. Singh 'Babu' and centre-forward, Balbir Singh.

The clouds vanished from the sky, and the sun shone over the ground soon after the start. This helped the Indians, who went about their task with determination and skill on a ground, which was not particularly affected by yesterday's drizzle.

A day with the hockey legend Balbir Singh  

Balbir Singh was simply brilliant, and it was the excellent form of the Dutch goalkeeper, L. S. Mulder, which limited goals from Balbir's stick to five.

After being completely outclassed in the first half, when their robust tactics paid no dividends, the Dutch in the second half decided to meet polish with polish, science with science. This change in their mode of play immediately paid a rich dividend in the form of their only goal of the match, scored by R.T. Esser, their inside-left, whose successful shot was as spectacular as that of Babu in the first half.

The Gold Medal was won by India for the fifth successive time. This may be her only Gold Medal of the 15th Olympiad.

The scorecard showing the final score at the end of the hockey final at 1952 Olympics.   -  The Hindu Archives

 

When the final whistle went up, 5,000 thrilled spectators rose to give a hearty cheer to India for their undisputed supremacy in hockey.

After the match, which among others, was watched by India's Minister to Finland, Mr. M. Desai and his wife. Flags of India, Holland and Britain went up, while the band played India's National Anthem, Jana Gana Mana...

Earlier, Mr. G. D. Sondhi, on behalf of the International Olympic Committee, in which he represents India, distributed the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals to India, Holland and Britain.

Indians'polished game

A good breeze blew across the Velodrome hockey ground, when the match began. The speedy Dutch forwards went over to the attack immediately after the bully-off and forced a long corner in the first minute. The Indians cleared this without any difficulty, and soon settled down to their polished scientific game, which compelled the Dutch to strengthen their defence, but he shot straight at the goalkeeper's pad.

Remembering Khashaba Jadhav in Olympic Niwas  

The Dutch were now completely on the defensive, the Indians cooly pressing their advantage. In the fifth minute, Balbir Singh, centre-forward, opened India's account off a pass from his skipper, with a stinging high shot, which gave the Dutch goalkeeper no chance.

Four minutes later, Balbir Singh repeated his performance after he and Babu had gone through the Dutch defence with some deft short passing. In the 25th minute, Babu, who, with bare feet, was back to his best form, scored India's third goal after collecting a pass from Keshav Dutt, centre-half.

India's goalkeeper Francis makes a difficult save during the hockey finals of the Helsinki Olympics.   -  The Hindu Archives

 

Once India's forward line had begun to move like a well-oiled machine, the Dutch whose methods were robust, were left standing. In the 33rd minute, Balbir Singh scored his third goal. At half-time, India were leading by four goals to nil.

India started on the attack, but were twice played off-side by the Dutch backs. After Mulder, the Dutch goalkeeper saved well from a corner, an Indian attack in the tenth minute beat the backs and Balbir Singh netted his fourth goal.

How India won its first Olympic hockey gold  

Holland was quick to retaliate and a minute later a pass by Van Heel enabled Esser shoot past Francis. The Dutchmen, inspired by their success, pressed hard. India conceded five corners in succession before Francis cleared.

Balbir Singh had another chance, when he broke through the centre, but his shot was wide. Balbir Singh scored his fifth goal with five minutes to play, when he netted off a pass from Babu, who in the last second shot too high.

Mr. M. L. Mitra, Manager of the Indian team, said after the match: "Throughout the game, there was no doubt that there was only one superior team and that was India. The Dutch put all they had in the game, but our forwards were too swift. The ground was fair and this was in our favour."

A jubilant Indian hockey team celebrates after its win in the final.   -  The Hindu Archives

 

Mr. Rein de Waal, Manager of the Dutch hockey team, said: "It was a great game. The Indians were very fast and on the run of play, they ought to have won. I knew they were very good, but I did not know they were so good as to beat Holland by six goals to one. OUr defence was a bit weak before India's brilliant forwards. It was a great pity that the ground was dry, which the Indians love."

Mr. R. Y. Fison, Manager of the British team, said: "There is no doubt that India showed their supremacy in the game this afternoon. They were the complete masters in all departments of the game. India won in a canter."

(This article was first published in The Hindu in 1952)

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