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45 years ago: A look back at Indian hockey’s only World Cup win

More than four decades ago, the Indian hockey team lifted its only World Cup crown on this day — a glorious chapter written after the heart-breaking loss two years earlier in 1973.

After enduring a topsy-turvy campaign, the Ajit Pal Singh-led Indian team scripted history with a thrilling 2-1 win over Pakistan on the night of March 15 at the Merdeka Football Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.

The golden voice of Hindi commentator Jasdev Singh, describing the winning moments of that iconic final, still reverberates in the hearts and minds of millions of Indians.

Ashok Kumar and Aslam Sher Khan, the stars of the semifinal and final, remembered those moments on the 45th anniversary of that historic win.

Heartbreak

“We were very close to winning the trophy in 1973 but lost to the hosts despite leading by two goals at one time. I missed a goal in extra time and we missed a penalty stroke in sudden death. It was heartbreaking for us. So we did not want to leave any stone unturned in 1975,” said Ashok Kumar, the son of legendary Dhyan Chand, who scored the winning goal against Pakistan in the final.

“We had a practice camp in Chandigarh prior to the tournament. Huge crowd used to gather to watch us. Giani Zail Singh was the chief minister then and he along with sports minister Umrao Singh visited us twice a week. Our morale was high and we were determined to win.”

India was trailing host Malaysia in the semifinal when team manager Balbir Singh Sr. pushed Aslam into the battlefield. The move earned rich dividends as he scored the equaliser to take the match into extra time.

Singular goal

“I can never forget that goal in my life. We had left Chandigarh with only one goal: to win the World Cup. Every member of the team had the same goal and we wanted to win it for our country,” recalls Aslam.

“We were riding high on confidence after the semifinal win. Pakistan was the former champion and a very strong team but they could not match our confidence in the final,” he added.

For Ashok Kumar, there was added pressure as he was Dhyan Chand’s son.

“Definitely pressure was there. More because of my family background. When we reached Malaysia and I saw the World Cup trophy for the first time in the hotel lobby, I made a promise to myself that I will make my father proud,” he said.

National holiday

A National holiday was declared in India on the day of the final and the Indian community in Malaysia was equally excited.

“Wherever we went, people gathered to have a glimpse. Autographs and photographs were taken. People went crazy and we were treated like heroes in Malaysia and India.”

Balbir Singh Sr. also went down memory lane.

“The historic World Cup triumph almost didn’t happen. The team entry for the tournament was almost withdrawn before it started. So many people worked so hard to make it possible,” he said.

Team motto

“I had created a unique team motto — ‘Regaining world supremacy is our goal.’ It was painted in bright red on the entrance to the team dormitory during the training camp. The boys played with unity, for each other and there was no place for showmanship. It was the combined efforts that made winning for India possible.”

Fortyfive years have passed since then and India is yet to win another World Cup.

Ashok Kumar lamented that despite such a historic feat, the winning team did not get its due.

“Forget about celebrations, nobody called us to congratulate on this day. I think not many remember the day. After all we are a cricket crazy country. Who remembers hockey heroes?”

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