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We Had To Make Do With A Shaved Hockey Field, Plastered With Cow Dung: Ashok Kumar

The main reason for decline of Indian hockey from the 1970s onwards was undoubted the inability of our players for decades to adjust to the new synthetic grass surface. It was clearly more suited to physical standards and style of play of players from Western nations. But, now that the new generation of Indian players are in tune with the surface, the future of Indian hockey looks bright.

These were the words of wisdom shared by veterans of India’s only Hockey World Cup title victory thus far, at Kuala Lumpur in 1975 – captain of the team Ajit Pal Singh and the man who scored the winning goal against Pakistan in the final, ace forward Ashok Kumar – in a session titled ‘Hockey: That 70s Show!’ at the 3rd edition of Playwrite sports literature fest, organised by The Playwrite Foundation, in Chandigarh, recently.

We Had To Make Do With A Shaved Hockey Field, Plastered With Cow Dung: Ashok Kumar, Lifeinchd

Photos By : Life In Chandigarh

The way the current Indian team has been playing, beating the top three teams in this year’s FIH Pro League, it can hopefully make a podium finish at the Tokyo Olympics, Ashok Kumar said, while exuding confidence that the boys are getting fitter and stronger, and playing technically better hockey, which are good traits to have while taking on the more robust teams of the world.

The two Indian hockey veterans were in conversation with senior journalist Prabhjot Paul Singh. The engrossing session was further bolstered as an ailing three time Olympic gold medallist and Chief Manager of the World Cup winning Indian team Balbir Singh Senior surprised everyone by making a brief appearance. It was picture perfect, as the three greats of the game met. A mad rush for selfies, group photographs and autographs followed, disrupting proceedings for quite a while.

When the session resumed, the more vocal of the two, Ashok Kumar, son of the legendry ‘hockey wizard’ Maj Dhyan Chand, while reminiscing those days of the great Indian win of 1975, and Indian hockey’s subsequent decline, shared that trials of the synthetic grass surface started in 1971-72, and FIH asked all hockey-playing nations to get the turfs. It was first officially used in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, but India got its first synthetic grass surface only in 1981, in preparation for the 1982 Asian Games, in New Delhi, he said.

“I remember that the preparatory camp for the Montreal Olympics was held at NIS Patiala, and since we did not have a synthetic grass surface in the country, the authorities plastered a field, from which grass was shaved off, with cow dunk, in a clumsy effort to replicate the conditions likely to confront them on the fast-paced synthetic grass surface in the Olympics,” Ashok Kumar related.

Ajit Pal Singh also blamed controversies that continued to dog the IHF in those times, and some weird changes made in team selections before important world events, for the decline in Indian hockey.

In fact, he said, the 1975 World Cup title was made all the more sweet, considering the uncertainty over the very participation of the team in the tournament. An ultimatum had been given to the Indian team management that the team will be sent back if the tussle within IHF was not resolved. We were saved the ignominy after the IOA stepped in and took responsibility to sponsor the team, he added.

We Had To Make Do With A Shaved Hockey Field, Plastered With Cow Dung: Ashok Kumar, Lifeinchd

Ashok Kumar remembered the one-and-a-half months training camp organised at Panjab University Chandigarh grounds, sponsored by the Punjab government, in preparation for the 1975 World Cup. He recalled the tremendous support they received from the huge crowds, which gathered each day to watch them practice, and being housed in an incomplete boys’ hostel right next to a girls’ hostel, which kicked up a controversy of sorts.

Asked about their preference between Indian and foreign coaches, Ajit Pal Singh, while appreciating the contribution of foreign coaches in fine-tuning the physical traits and technical skills of Indian hockey players in line with the requirement of artificial surfaces, felt that with the new generation of players having achieved that comfort level on such surfaces, Indian coaches could now take charge of training aspects.

Commenting on Major Dhyan Chand being overlooked for the Bharat Ratna award, while conferring it on cricket great Sachin Tendulkar, he said it was baffling why the government could not confer the country’s highest civilian honour on the ‘hockey wizard’, and three time Olympic gold medallist Balbir Singh Senior, for that matter. Their contribution to the game, and the honour they brought to the country, is unparalleled, he asserted.

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