Perfect teamwork

RAJINDER SINGH (SR)

I REMEMBER the match, and the date (June 12, 1982) vividly. How can one forget a victory against Pakistan? I know I scored three goals in a row but believe me it was the collective celebration of the team that has always appealed to me as the most striking aspect of India's 5-4 win in the Champions Trophy of 1982.

We left India with fond hopes of winning the title. We had the team to achieve our goals and the platform too as we were still rated among the top teams of the world. On the personal front I was on a high since I had top-scored in the World Cup and was really charged up to take on Pakistan. Needless to say it was a crucial match since we were playing for a bronze medal. This was not what we had set out to achieve but then, as has been the bane of Indian hockey, we had failed to capitalise on our chances. We really had none to blame and it was heartbreaking that we could not have a go at the gold.

It would have been shattering to lose to Pakistan. We almost did. At the half time we were down 2-3. The atmosphere in the dressing room was tense. Not much was spoken because we all had our task cut out. It was now up to us to perform. Nothing could be left to chance.

Pakistan had a formidable outfit and we knew they were only going to grow stronger in the second session. Syed Khan, Qasim Zia and Hassan Sardar had scored for Pakistan. Sardar was very menacing that day. We had to shackle him. And also score goals. It was a challenge of the highest order.

We organised ourselves after Pakistan took a 2-0 lead. I slammed the next three goals to make my most significant contribution. When I look back I do feel proud of the fact that I could beat a sterling player like Kalimullah. It was very tough because he was electric and would rush out to foil you.

Our forwards had struggled a bit initially, missing out on scoring chances. I remember requesting our forwards to earn penalty corners because that appeared a better chance. They did their job and we did ours. Perfect teamwork!

I was confident of foxing the Pakistanis, especially Kalimullah, because I used my wrist in directing the penalty corner shots. It allowed me to hit the ball late and find the angle to frustrate the Pakistanis. Kalimullah had won some battles with me by taking the ball away but this day I gave him no chance. I had trained for the tournament well — 400 to 500 hits a day during practice.

I had to beat Kalimullah and then the goalkeeper. Thanks to Surjit (Singh) I was motivated that day and in the second half one of my shots struck Kalimullah, leaving him with a fractured arm. He was out and we did gain from his absence. Mervyn (Fernandes) was a brilliant `pusher' and we had some good `stoppers' in (Surinder Singh) Sodhi and Zafar (Iqbal).

That day once the ball left Mervyn I knew it had goal written over it even before it had been stopped. Those days you had to stop the ball with your hand. In a fraction, I could see the `rushers' and the goalkeeper and I could angle the ball into the goal. More than power it was the spin that I imparted in my shots that left the Pakistanis baffled.

For the record, Gurmail (Singh) and Sodhi knocked in a goal each to complete a famous victory. But we had to really toil every minute. That evening, I had dinner with Kalimullah in his room. We have remained good friends.

I take this opportunity to wish the Indian team well in its endeavour in Chennai. Our players have the talent and potential to win. I will be in the stands to cheer the boys.

(The writer is former India player and coach)