How we prepared in 1975

There was complete coordination and cooperation between the officials and the players. We loved them and they respected our decisions. Ajitpal and his players gave an excellent display of team spirit. They possessed the required degree of fitness in all aspects of the game, recalls BALBIR SINGH (Sr.), manager of the victorious 1975 team.

A QUARTER of a century has passed but vague memories linger, some pleasant and others bitter.

V. SUDERSHAN

I recall in my mind's eye, the scene; The III World Cup was round the corner. The IHF was out of office and the game was administered by the IOA. Keeping in view my hockey background and earlier discussions with the Secretary Sports, the Punjab Government agreed to conduct the preparatory coaching camp at Chandigarh.

The IOA appointed me as director of the camp and the late K. D. Singh Babu as the chief coach. I was told to cut short my leave abroad and return. Since Babu regretted his inability to take up the assignment due to domestic reasons, the IOA made me director-cum-chief coach. I was lucky to have a team of most dedicated officials to run the camp. They were the late Gurcharan Bodhi of the Punjab Sports Department and the late V. J. Peter of Services as coaches, S. S. Gill of Punjab University as physical trainer, Dr. Rajendra Kalra of the Post Graduate Institute as Medical officer and H. S. Joshi of the Punjab Sports Council as in-charge mess and household. Gurcharan, Gill and Kalra later accompanied the team to Kuala Lumpur. But for their all out help and co-operation the maiden World Cup victory would not have been possible.

The camp was held on the campus of the Punjab University, Chandigarh. Thanks to Dr. B. L. Gupta, Director, Physical Education, of the University, the newly constructed girl's hostel was given as residence for the campers. This being in front of another girl's hostel across the road, some girls started making courtesy calls at our visitors' lounge. Our front gate had to be locked and the players were told to use the rear gate that opened towards the playfields.

The initial resentment among the players subsided soon when the importance of our mission was explained to them. The girls were, however, advised to watch the players in action on the field. That prompted the players to give their best to impress them. Other students and fans also turned up in thousands every afternoon to watch the thrilling training sessions. There was no complaint. The behaviour of the players and the fans was exemplary.

My job as director and chief coach of the camp had become more taxing because of the sad demise of my father during the first week of the camp and the consequent serious stroke suffered by my wife who remained in coma for over a month. I continued shuttling between the camp and the hospital. She recovered gradually, thanks to the PGI authorities.

"Regaining the past glory is our goal" was the motto that I got painted in bright red in big letters on a snow-white wall at the entrance of the hostel. As our team's performance since 1964 was not up to the mark, some friends took that motto as an exaggerated boast. But I believed in an old adage that those who aim stones at the moon throw them higher than those who aim them at the treetops.

We invited some of the best local teams to give practice to our team. That paid rich dividends. After training, meetings were held every evening to find out the shortcomings and the ways and the means to correct them. I am grateful to late Dr. B. L. Gupta, the Vohra brothers - the late Surinder and the current Secretary Yash and other hockey veterans who came to the camp daily.

I am not that religious. Yet, on all such assignments I have been taking my teams to various places of worship only to develop team spirit and instil in the minds of the players the required confidence and will to win. At the Kuala Lumpur mosque everyone was surprised when the doctor, the coach and I landed there along with Aslam for Friday prayers. At the Chandigarh camp and later at Kuala Lumpur. I followed my Punjab Police team's old practice of making common prayer room for all players to extend equal respect to all faiths.

In our team there was no Hindu, no Muslim, no Sikh and no Christian. It was a well-knit bunch of sportspersons representing secular India. And it was what they manifested in abundance on and off the field.

There was complete coordination and cooperation between the officials and the players. We loved them and they respected our decisions. Ajitpal and his players gave an excellent display of team spirit. They possessed the required degree of fitness in all aspects of the game: physical, technical, tactical, mental and psychological. In the second half of the final it appeared as if they were writing poetry on the field.

The maiden World Cup victory should have helped us to develop hockey further in the country but alas we failed.

Our stay, the conduct of the tournament and other allied arrangements at Kuala Lumpur were excellent. The organisers were extremely hospitable. The big crowds turning out to watch the matches appeared very knowledgeable. They appreciated all good moves. The weather caused minor problems but that was unavoidable.

In the end I am sorry to point out that there is much room for improvement in our policy of awards and rewards. The yardstick applied for assessment of performance in different cases is not uniform. It leads to a lot of lifelong heartburning and resentment.

Finally, Kuala Lumpur has always been lucky for us. Hope it proves lucky once again.

My best wishes are with our team.