Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dhyan Chand (August 29, 1905 — December 3, 1979)

BERLIN Olympics, 1936. India are playing the favourites Germany in the Hockey finals. Germany's centre-forward Fritz scores a goal in the dying moments of the game. When everyone in the India squad have lost hope, Dhyan Chand suddenly puts India back in the reckoning by scoring an equaliser, and in the next five minutes scores two more goals to fetch a Gold for India.

Dhyan ChandThousands cheered the Indians that day, and among them was a person named Adolf Hitler. He was so impressed by Dhyan Chand's skill with the ball, that he is supposed to have told him: "I will make you Field Marshal if you join the German Army." Not the one to be swayed by praise, Dhyan Chand refused the offer politely.

For a man who rose to such dizzy heights of fame, Dhyan Chand was a very humble and unassuming man. Being the son of a sepoy, he, too, joined the army, and it was in the army that he was initiated into hockey by Major Bale Tiwari of the First Brahmin Regiment. When the regiment was disbanded, Dhyan Chand was transferred to the Punjab Regiment, where he soon established himself as the most talented player in the forces. He was sent to New Zealand, where out of 21 matches, the army won 18, drew two and lost one. The team scored 192 goals conceding only 24.

But Dhyan Chand's greatest moment arrived when he found himself in the Indian team that was being sent to Amsterdam for the Olympics. "The day of our dreams dawned," he recalled later, "On May 17, (1928) we confidently marched into the stadium to make our Olympic debut. We had travelled thousands of miles for this. People at home, quite a number of them were hyper-critical, had their doubts as to the wisdom of India's participation in the Olympics. We were determined to show the world that in this game our country was supreme." He was definitely not exaggerating, for in the matches that followed, Indians beat Belgium (9-0), Denmark (5-0), and Holland (3-0).

Commenting on the spectacular performance of the Indian team, and especially of Dhyan Chand, a Dutch sports reporter said:"An Indian hockey ball never obeys the laws of gravity, and has never learned that the shortest distance between two points is s straight line. The shortest way for the Indian ball is a zig-zag, a triangle or a circle, never a straight line."

Dhyan Chand also played for India in the 1932 Olympic Games, Los Angeles, and captained India in the 1936 Olympics, Berlin. His last appearance was in 1947-48 when he led the IHF team in Kenya.

After retirement, he was for a while the Chief Coach at the National Institute of Sports, Patiala. He was awarded a Padam Bhushan 1956, and statue of his was unveiled at the National Stadium, New Delhi on August 29, 1965.

If he were alive today, he would have rued the sorry state Indian hockey finds itself in.Those who complain about lack of patronage or sponsorship should look to Dhyan Chand for his resourcefulness. In the end it is sheer talent and dedication that wins the day.

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