As Pakistan edged out India to lift the Asian Champions Trophy title last month, and talks are underway about a bilateral series with India this year, hockey’s greats look into and reflect on their on field rivalry with their neighbours over the years.
“The final was also being watched by Mrs Indira Gandhi, India’s prime minister at the time,” says Pakistan hockey great Hasan Sardar about the final of the 1982 IX Asian Games hockey event being played in India.
“When the score line was 5-1 in Pakistan’s favour, the prime minister decided not to stay for further humiliation and walked off in a huff!” He adds while talking about the Pakistan hockey team’s 7-1 thrashing of India in that final.
“I was the captain of the Pakistan team when we beat India in the Asian Games in New Delhi and not just their prime minister, the stands in the entire stadium quickly became empty when we happened to glance upwards for a second when the score was 5-1,” says Flying Horse Samiullah.
“Playing India was always an extraordinary feeling for us. But the players of Germany and Holland and Australia and New Zealand also experience something similar when facing each other. Still, we also have a history,” he adds.
“I remember,” he shares, “there was an Indian umpire, Ghulam Ghaus, who took the brunt of our anger whenever he disallowed our goals. Islah and I would always be screaming and yelling at him as we argued with him. We hated him so much,” Samiullah laughs at the memory.
Celebrated goalkeeper Qamar Zia remembers how Air Chief Marshal Nur Khan rewarded and punished them during a four-Test series against the archrivals. “It was in 1978 when we played a four-match series against India with two matches there and two here,” he says.
“Pakistan won the matches in Mumbai (3-2), Bangalore (2-1) and Karachi (3-2) but lost the last one in Lahore somehow by 1-2. I remember the Indian team had visited the Gurdwara in Lahore earlier on the day and their prayers there were promptly answered obviously,” he laughs.
“The Air Chief Marshal, meanwhile, had told us that he would be rewarding each player of the Pakistan team Rs3,000 for each win. We didn’t realise that it was like negative marking for a loss as we should have got Rs9,000 after the three wins but only got Rs6,000 as he subtracted 3,000 from the winning amount after the Lahore match,” the former goalkeeper explains.
“Still, what’s priceless for us are the experiences we had touring India and playing against their team. In Bangalore we played for a jam-packed crowd. The people there, mostly Muslim, fought security to just be able to touch us. Several Indian players including centre-half Ajit Pal Singh, the late fullback captain Surjit Singh Randhawa and left-in Zafar Iqbal became good friends off the field. We were complete hooligans, shouting abuses at each other on the ground, which is impossible now due to the strict umpiring rules, but off it we were normal people who loved our respective countries,” he reasons.
Meanwhile, the great Olympian Shahnaz Sheikh proudly says that the Green Shirts never lost a hockey match to the blue with him in the team. “From 1969 to 1979, we only lost twice to India and due to injury I was not playing in both those matches,” he informs.
Sharing his memories about the games he did feature in with them, he remembers the 1972 Munich Olympics semi-final where they sent India home after beating them 2-0. Our first lady Mrs Nusrat Bhutto was watching that match in person and she later told me that my goal against India in the match was the best she had ever seen,” he beams at the memory.