‘Thanks for all the memories, Mansoor’

Former India hockey player Dhanraj Pillay remembers Mansoor Ahmed as the sportsperson who saw no divide between India and Pakistan; for him, it was one subcontinent.

India's hockey star Dhanraj Pillay (extreme left) and the legendary Pakistan goalkeeper Mansoor Ahmed (down) at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

When you lose a dear friend, whom you have known for decades, it is difficult to come to terms with it. When our dear friend Haider Hussain, also a former hockey player from Pakistan, rang me to say that Mansoor Ahmed is no more, it came as a shock. We all knew he was fighting the odds, but even then, it is hard to accept the truth.

As I speak, memories are flowing in. I remember that incident from 1994 World Cup in Sydney, when the entire Indian team was standing near the Pakistan dugout during its final against The Netherlands. As Mansoor saved the penalty and guided his team to victory, he walked up to us and shook hands with the Indian players. Before the prize distribution ceremony, he said it was a matter of pride that the World Cup came to the subcontinent.

That was Mansoor.

He was one of the finest goalkeepers of his times and was also a dear friend of mine. I have so many memories with Mansoor, Shahbaz Ahmed and others. Whenever we would speak, Mansoor would speak about the betterment of the game and how to develop hockey in this part of the world. He was all for resuming the India-Pakistan hockey Test series. We would speak over the phone in every two or three months. He was very respected in the world of hockey and a few years ago, he also wanted to be a part of the Hockey India League. I tried bringing him so that the goalkeepers could learn from him.

Personally, I have learnt quite a few things from Mansoor. I try to impart that knowledge to goalkeepers today. He used to tell me, “Dhanraj, when penalty corner happens, the greatest players are usually sent to take strikes. So, you have to prepare mentally. What are you going to do is the most important thing. You have to keep them in doubt about your strategy and confuse the shooters. You should not gauge what the goalkeeper would do.”

These are the words I will remember forever. We have played the Olympics and the Asian Games together. After the games, Shahbaz, Mansoor and I would sit together in the Games Village and talk for hours. Those were the days!

I also spoke to him last week. I told him that we were all praying for him and the Indian government was ready to bring him here for medical treatments. But his health conditions worsened and he could not be brought here. It is very unfortunate that we lost someone who was extremely passionate about the game.

I have preserved a few video clips that he had sent me. He was on wheelchair, and even then, he went to oversee a new hockey ground that was being constructed in Pakistan. He would visit the ground and advised people on how to get the ground ready. This sums up everything.

It was good that Shahid Afridi visited him in the hospital. It is a big loss for Pakistan and for the entire subcontinent. He was a calm and quiet person, who loved the game and believed in god.

May god give his family enough strength to tackle this situation. I spoke to Shahbaz recently and told him that once he is in India, Mansoor will be taken care of. I was prepared to spend whatever money was required for his treatment, but he did not give us that chance.

It was a pleasure knowing you Mansoor, and thanks for all the memories.

As told to Shayan Acharya

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