Amid cricket fervour, India conveniently forgets its only hockey World Cup win in 1975

New Delhi: He was the 16th and last man to be selected in the Indian hockey team for the 1975 World Cup. Also there were ‘messages from New Delhi’ to the team management to ‘drop him’ during the tournament. Thank god it never happened and Ashok Kumar played in the final to score the title-winning goal. It gave India their first ever and till date the last World Cup. The final against Pakistan was played in Kuala Lumpur and India won 2-1.

The 46th anniversary of India’s lone World Cup triumph till date was celebrated Monday. Unlike cricket, it was not celebrated with pomp and glam. In fact many people even did not realise that March 15 is a red letter day in Indian hockey. However, the 70-year-old Ashok Kumar recalled Monday the heady days of final against Pakistan. The win somewhat made up for not winning the 1973 World Cup despite India reaching the final – and losing to the Netherlands.

“India’s 1975 World Cup triumph had created a tehelka (storm) at the time. It makes us feel proud of our achievement. So March 15, 1975, is indeed a historic day for Indian hockey. Before this win, India had been labelled as a team of silver and bronze medallists. With this triumph, we removed that label,” Ashok Kumar, son hockey wizard Dhyan Chand, said.

For Ashok, the 1975 World Cup glory brought double satisfaction. He had been a member of the Indian team for the first World Cup in 1971 and also the second edition in 1973. On both occasions, India had come tantalising close to winning the title. They finished with a bronze in 1971 in Spain and then lost to the Netherlands in the final two years later.

“The defeat in 1973 final still haunts me, to be honest. We lost on penalties after the score remained 2-2 after the extra time. In extra time, BP Govinda missed a penalty stroke in ‘sudden death’. The Netherlands won 4-2 in the penalties and the loss was a huge setback,” Ashok recalled.

“When we reached Kuala Lumpur for the 1975 World Cup, the trophy was displayed in a case. I stood there and stared it for a while, as I was still ruing the miss of the 1973 tournament. That feeling hit me at that moment. I made a commitment to myself to give my best at the upcoming 1975 World Cup,” disclosed Ashok.

The team that won the World Cup in 1975

During the tournament, India lost only one match in the group stage, to Argentina.

“I was pulled out midway through that match. Then, when we beat Germany 3-1 in a crucial group match to qualify for the semifinals. There were messages from New Delhi to drop me from the team. However, the team management kept its faith and trust in me,” recalled Ashok. “Earlier, mine was the 16th and last name to be written on the sheet when the selectors picked the squad for the World Cup,” he added.

In the semifinals, India edged out host Malaysia 3-2 in extra time, and set up the final against traditional rivals Pakistan.

“Before the final, the entire team went to mandir, masjid, and gurudwara in Kuala Lumpur and prayed. In the final, when Pakistan took a one goal lead in the 17th minute, some of our players got disheartened. Surjit Singh equalised in the 44th minute. And then in the 51st minute I scored a goal that turned out to be the match-winning strike,” he said.

The moment Malaysian umpire G. Vijaynathan declared it a goal, Pakistani players protested. The game then stopped for a couple of minutes. When it resumed Pakistan started making one attack after the other. However, Aslam Sher Khan stood like a rock and goalkeeper Ashok Diwan made some classical saves,” recalled Ashok Kumar.

After a series of felicitations in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Chennai, New Delhi, and other cities Ashok finally reached his home town Jhansi by train. It took him four hours to cover the three-km route from the station to his home. His best moment came on reaching home.

“When I reached home, ‘dadu’ (father Dhyan Chand) patted my back in appreciation. It was a rare occasion when he had touched me, since out of sheer respect for him I used to keep a distance from him. And, anyway, he had never encouraged us to take up sport as a career as the reward were few and far between,” he informed.

It should also be stated here that Odisha player Michael Kindo was a part of the team that won the World Cup.

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