Muneer Sait’s engrossing journey continues

The former hockey star forays into new territories even as he turns 80.

Eternal sportsman: An outstanding hockey goalkeeper, Muneer Sait also excelled at other sports.   -  K. Pichumani

Muneer Sait has eyes that laugh. They are also a window to his spirit filled with sunshine and happiness. And he spreads joy around him.

Take a walk to the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium at normal times — not the COVID-19 days — and you can see Sait, greeting friends, and lapping the arena in the evenings with the enthusiasm of a youngster.

His charm could so easily cut through barriers, build bridges, win hearts.

The illustrious Sait will turn 80 on Wednesday and, remarkably, he continues to be the centre-forward in hockey for Madras Cricket Club (MCC), plays squash regularly and takes out at least two days a week for golf.

READ: How India won its first Olympic hockey gold

Supremely fit

“I want to keep fit, be on my feet and be happy till the very end,” Sait told Sportstar here on Tuesday.

Of course, he was a jadugar (magician) as a hockey goalkeeper when he travelled to the Mexico Olympics in 1968. “We could only win the bronze. This remains my biggest disappointment.”

The Indian team, with disastrous consequences, had two captains, Prithipal Singh and Gurbux Singh. “We had two camps in the team,” he recalled.

Finest moment

Sait’s finest moment arrived against Spain, when he stopped 12 penalty corners. “And we did not have face masks or chest pads those days.”

The eventual bronze was no consolation. He shone bright in domestic competitions such as the Rangaswamy Cup — “the trophy was donated by The Hindu” — and carried Tamil Nadu to two finals in the Nationals. In one of them, at Madurai, the side emerged joint winner.

His commitment to hockey enabled him travel to seven Olympic Games and six hockey World Cups as a FIH technical official.

Sait bonded with the legendary Balbir Singh (sr) as a youngster in Patiala, and in 1976, when he himself was a junior selector, submitted a report to Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. “I wrote if hockey was not made compulsory in schools, it would die in the country.”

And the late Indian cricket team captain Ajit Wadekar — both worked for State Bank of India in Chennai — was a dear friend.

READ: Sport and nostalgia are close mates

Squash and polo

Meanwhile, the astonishingly athletic Sait conquered fresh territories. When 46, he won the veteran’s National squash title, then became an international squash referee.

He was into polo too and represented the Madras Polo and Riders Club against Col. V.P. Singh’s formidable 61th Cavalry side. ‘We had very good players such as A.C. Muthiah,” Sait said.

The dynamic Sait also served as the Chief Judge at the Madras Race Club.

Interestingly, in his school days at Madrasa-I-Azam, Sait was a promising 110m hurdler.

“I was born with sports in my blood,” he says. Sait’s spellbinding journey continues.

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