1956 Olympics hockey: Winners again for the sixth Games running

“Come on, India!” the war cry roars from the Indian spectators after the interval. India respond with a goal. All have been waiting for this.

India’s Raghbir Singh Bhola fights for possession in the final against Pakistan on December 6, 1956. India won 1-0.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

I may not know much about hockey, but I have acquired a sense of occasions. So let me tell you a little about what a lay enthusiast saw at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where India, for the sixth Olympiad running, went in to fight for the gold medal.

It is a sultry day, the sort of day that in India would come before the rains. For the first time since the Games began, a thin layer of cloud obscures the sun. The tiers of the huge arena are not more than a third full and white summer dresses dominate against a background of light brown stone. Under the scoreboard, on which so many breathtaking results have been flashed before, sit some 70 red-coated army musicians, who entertain us in the intervals.

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It seems that every Indian in Australia is in the stadium, and for that matter, every loyal Pakistani. Just on four o’clock, Balbir Singh and Hamid lead their boys in.

Captain Balbir Singh leads his team.

 

Germany and Britain first slog it out for the bronze medal and to this comparative tyro it does not seem a very good match. In any case, everybody waits for India. We had expected to see Britain oppose them in the final, but Britain were beaten by Germany. So the clock creeps on, the press stand by degrees begins to fill up, though unlike on the great athletic days the previous week, there is still plenty of room and people settle down behind their binoculars.

The teams now come out and Cowlishaw, the English referee runs his hand over the 22 sticks. Balbir pats down the little white cloth that covers his topknot — and the game is under way, 15 minutes behind schedule. This is different from the Germany-Britain match. The film unrolls fast and furious. Nasir plays barefoot. Gurdev Singh falls heavily and Anwar and his stick are everywhere for Pakistan. Balbir Singh takes off his shoes and Bakshish’s shoes come off too. Nasir puts his soul into it. “Intoxicating hockey,” sighs a Karachi reporter behind me.

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Zakir at goal uses the stick to smack a scooped ball high over his goal. Anwar’s green jersey is black with sweat. Balbir’s hair lies all over the place now. In the 32nd minute, there is a corner against India. Two false starts and there is nearly a goal. Hamid is the name on every Pakistani’s lips. India get the best out of the bullies and display better ball control. But it is an open game. At half-time, there is no score.

“Come on, India!” the war cry roars from the Indian spectators after the interval. India respond with a goal. All have been waiting for this. Gurdev Singh is everywhere. Pakistan get their second wind. An Indian infringement and a penalty bully follows. Amir Kumar deserves a gold medal for saving it. Pakistan are on the march now and anything can happen yet. The “Come on, India” cries are somewhat strident now. Time is up and India are safe. A wonderful victory, if a narrow one. They carry off Balbir Singh.

This article was published in the December 29, 1956 edition of Sport & Pastime.

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