HOCKEY: MEMORIES OF GOLD

06 Sep 2020

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R.S. Bhola (India) checked by Pakistani defenders during the final
R.S. Bhola (India) checked by Pakistani defenders during the final

It was 60 years ago, on September 9, 1960 that Pakistan won its first-ever Olympic gold medal in any sport, by defeating India in the hockey final at Rome, something the entire nation had been waiting for since Pakistan’s inception in 1947.

It is said that a country’s national and regional identity are closely associated to its sporting achievements. It didn’t take long for Pakistan to have a world champion in Hashim Khan who won the British Open squash title in 1951. In cricket, Pakistan surprised everyone by winning the Oval Test in 1954, on their first ever tour of England (it took India almost 40 years to notch its first Test win in England). But it was hockey that was the focus of attention of the sports fraternity in both India and Pakistan.

There were reasons for this. Before Pakistan’s birth, the united British India team had won three consecutive Olympic hockey gold medals — in 1928, 1932 and 1936. But because of the Second World War, the Olympics could only be resumed in 1948. The Muslim players constituted a significant proportion of all these three teams from India, which took gold. Hence, not only the new nation of Pakistan, but the connoisseurs of the game expected an Indo-Pakistan final in the first post-Partition Olympiad in 1948. But what to talk of gold or silver, the Pakistan side failed to land even the bronze medal, finishing fourth at London. Four years later, at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Pakistan again ended at the fourth spot.

There was dejection at home over the second consecutive failure. It led to serious soul-searching. A five-member committee, headed by senior civil servant Mian Riazuddin, a former Punjab University hockey player of distinction, was formed by the Pakistan Hockey Federation. The committee made a number of recommendations including:

Instead of the selection committee formed of ‘quota’ representatives of all the affiliated units, a new selection committee should be formed, comprising reputed former players only.

There would be no undue pressure on the players. They could use sticks and shoes of their own choice.

Pakistan celebrates the diamond jubilee of its first Olympic gold, a hockey victory that resulted in the game becoming our national sport

The captain’s power and authority was to be increased.

To increase the base of players, a number of tournaments in all the provinces would be organised under the supervision of provincial tournament committees.

All this paid off. At the 1956 Olympics, Pakistan reached the final for the first time and came across India. The whole hockey world had been waiting for this. India scored the lone goal of the match through a penalty corner. It was a controversial goal, as Pakistan had not even lined up on the goal line when the hit was taken and even Indian full-back Randhir Singh Gentle’s hit was not legitimate as the ball struck the net instead of the board.

However, Pakistan had fully arrived and it appeared capable of ending India’s long tenure at the throne any time. And the nation had got its first-ever Olympics medal in any sport.

Before the 1960 Olympic Games at Rome, Pakistan achieved a real morale booster by winning the 1958 Asian Games gold medal — on goal average, though. India were relegated to the second position for the first time at any international tournament.

It was almost the same team, which had been playing together since 1956. Eight of the first choice XI had played in the 1956 final against India.

Skipper Abdul Hamid Hamidi at the top of the podium
Skipper Abdul Hamid Hamidi at the top of the podium

So, most of the players knew that it was their last chance to win an Olympic gold. The team was again led by Abdul Hamid Hamidi, the lone survivor from the 1948 Olympics. Hamidi’s influence could be judged from the fact that he replaced Zafar Ahmad Khan with Zafar Hayat at virtually the last moment. Pakistan started in a cavalier fashion winning all the three pool games with ease.

In the quarter-final, Pakistan found West Germany a hard nut to crack. Pakistan went ahead through that great centre forward Abdul Waheed, but the Germans equalised quickly. Then left-in Naseer Bunda netted the winner. Although Pakistan won the semi-final against Spain by a lone goal, courtesy full-back Manzoor Hussain Atif’s penalty corner conversion, their superiority was never in doubt, though Hamidi had to save a penalty bully.

The stage was set for the clash of the titans in the eternal city of Rome. The Indian side, which had won six Olympic hockey titles on the trot, was now pitted against the determined and hungry Pakistani side.

The Green Shirts started with an all-out attack. In the 13th minute of the final, right-in Hamidi edged past right-out Noor Alam. Noor Alam’s centre found left-in Naseer Bunda. The ball stopped dead on his stick and was flicked like a flash on to the left side of the Indian goalkeeper. This proved to be the decisive goal and it ended India’s 32-year-old supremacy in Olympic hockey.

Pakistan’s dominance of the tournament can be gauged from the fact that they scored 25 goals while only one was scored against them.

The famous English hockey journalist R.L. Holland paid tribute to Hamidi and Bunda in these words: “In the final analysis it was their inside forwards, Hamid and Naseer, who won Pakistan their gold medal and most of all Hamid. He does not play the spectacular trick of Naseer or the Indian Peter. But neither of these men have his shrewd tactical appreciation and command of the movement. To my eyes, he is the most constructive forward in the world today.”

This was the crowning achievement for skipper Hamidi, who retired from hockey after having competed in four consecutive Olympic Games. It was also a momentous occasion for the manager A.I.S. Dara who had really worked hard all these years to build up a winning squad.

Pakistan’s first-ever Olympic gold was top news
Pakistan’s first-ever Olympic gold was top news

But most importantly, it was a great occasion for the entire Pakistani nation who finally had their first Olympic Games gold medal. The team was given a tumultuous welcome on its return home and there were big receptions in all the major cities in their honour.

It is worth mentioning here that the 1960 Olympics hockey final was televised throughout Western Europe on the European link-up. It was also the first time that TV covered the Olympics on such a large scale, although it was in London in 1948 that the Olympic Games were first shown on home television sets.

A nation’s success in the Olympics is seen as a measure of that nation’s standing in the international community. This year, 2020 marks the diamond jubilee of Pakistan’s first-ever Olympic gold medal. As a result of this, hockey was officially declared the country’s national game.

Team

Goalkeepers: Abdul Rasheed and Ronny Gardener

Full-backs: Muneer Dar, ManzoorAtif, Khursheed Azam and Basheer Ahmad

Half-backs: Ghulam Rasool Chaudhry, Anwaar Ahmed Khan, Habib Ali Kiddie, Zafar Hayat

Forwards: Noor Alam, Abdul Hamid Hamidi, Abdul Waheed Khan, NaseerBunda, Mutiullah Khan, Zafar Ali Zafari, Mushtaq Ahmad, Khawaja Zakauddin

Scorers: Abdul Hamid Hamidi 9, Abdul Waheed 6, Naseer Bunda 5, Muneer Dar 1, M.H. Atif 1, Mutiullah 1, Anwaar A. Khan 1, Noor Alam 1

The writer is a freelance sports journalist Email: ijaz62@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 6th, 2020