1980 Olympics hockey gold: We learnt everything in nine days in Moscow

Used to playing on grassy ground throughout in India, our boys had the first experience on the turf playing matches against the host.

The Indian players jump for joy after beating Spain 4-3 in the final on July 31, 1980.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

It will come as a huge surprise to those of the current generation, perhaps, when I say that the Indian men’s team played its first-ever match on artificial turf in Moscow hardly nine days before the 1980 Olympics.

Used to playing on grassy ground in India, our boys had the first experience on the turf playing matches against the host. Each practice session or match, with the expertise of our coach Balkishan Singh, we used it to the best of our capabilities. No doubt, it was a great learning experience discussing the finer details of the behaviour of the turf with the leather ball.

Our boys, comprising mostly under-21 players who had played only in the junior nationals, though inexperienced, were hungry. The few senior players were myself, M. K. Kaushik, Bir Bahadur Chettri and Sylvanus Dung Dung.

Most of the European countries including Spain and Germany had artificial turfs and had experienced players. Everyone thought we were easy targets, and they weren’t way off the mark.

We played four matches against the Russian team, lost three, but managed to draw (3-3) our last match. That was a huge relief for us!

Truth be told, we learnt everything in those nine days in Moscow. After the 2-2 draw with Poland — thanks to the last minute goal which was the equaliser by Mervyn Fernandes — we made it to the semifinals.

Against Russia, we changed our tactics by tweaking the way we take penalty corners. Generally, I took the ball from the right from the pusher and passed it to the attacker. This time, I took it on my left — not my natural position — and passed it either to S. S. Sodhi or Kaushik.

Our tactics against Russia worked well as it not only confused them, but also helped us score goals.

Making a marked Mohammed Shahid play as centre-forward from inside-left and using Mervyn as a link instead of his usual position as inside-forward did the trick as we won 4-2.

The captain Baskaran himself.   -  The Hindu Photo Library


Against Spain in the final, we were very confident. In the first five minutes, the way we played was so good as our passes and interceptions were spot-on. It gave us the necessary momentum.

We led 3-1 at half-time and Shahid scored to make it 4-1. Midway into the second half, Davinder Singh received a yellow card.

With 16 minutes remaining, Spain reduced the margin 4-2. We played badly from the 70th minute onwards, losing the ball frequently. Juan Amat played well as usual with his penalty corners and the scoreline read 4-3.

With three minutes remaining, we gave away three penalty corners. I made two goalline saves from Amat’s penalty strikes in the last few minutes. And the rest, as they say, is history.

V. Baskaran captained India at the Moscow Olympics.

As told to K. Keerthivasan

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