To shine as a goalkeeper when forwards get all the attention is not easy. If stalwarts like Richard Allen and Ranganathan Francis achieved legendary status under the bar it was purely because of their exemplary work in international events, which were few and far between, and in domestic tournaments. Like Allen and Francis, Shankar Laxman, who died recently in Indore, was a titan under the bar.

Perhaps very few of the modern generation can connect with what Laxman stood for in the heyday of Indian hockey. When Laxman, hailing from Mhow, came on the scene in 1953, he had to function under the shadow of Francis, who figured in the 1948, '52, and '56 Olympiads. Laxman was fortunate to be part of the Services squad, one of the prominent teams on the national scene. Laxman figured in the national competition for a decade and a half. He was part of the Services team that won the Rangaswamy Cup five times ('53, '55, '56, '60, '65). Laxman was the understudy to Francis in 1956 at Melbourne, and the first-choice 'keeper in the next two Games (Rome 1960 and Tokyo 1964). He donned India colours in three successive Asiads from 1958, including the memorable final in Bangkok 1966 against Pakistan when Balbir Singh's goal gave Laxman-led India the country's first Asian gold.

Laxman played in several other international tournaments such as the ones at Warsaw (1955), Barcelona (1959), Munich (1959), Ahmedabad (1962), Lyon (1963) and Hamburg (1966). India finished on the podium in all the tournaments.

The Bangkok Asiad gold brought Laxman the Padma Shree in 1966. Two years earlier, he received the Arjuna Award.

S. Thyagarajan