India has been taking part in the Olympics since 1916, but has won only nine gold medals so far. Eight of them came from hockey, the ninth being Abhinav Bindra’s in the last Olympics. Two players have a unique distinction in hockey - they have won three gold medals and were also captains of the winning side. This rare honour is shared by Dhyan Chand and Balbir Singh Sr.
The Asian continent is regarded as a superpower
in the world of hockey. In fact, India and Pakistan
have won the Olympic gold for 40 years on a roll!
From the year 1928 to 1968, India won six golds and
Pakistan two (1960 and 1968). India won the gold again
in 1980 (Moscow Olympics) and Pakistan in 1984 at Los
Angeles. Even when it comes to women’s hockey, India
along with South Korea and China are world champions.
Son of hockey legend Dhyan Chand, Ashok Kumar is a
classic hockey player himself. He is an artistic forward,
and relishes scoring goals - he even scored the winning
goal in the 1975 World Cup final!
For long, leather balls were used in hockey. Nowadays,
plastic balls are used. These have indentations all over
their surface, to prevent inconsistent speeds on wet surfaces.
Interestingly, only white balls are used for matches, though
coloured ones are used for practice.
A famous goalkeeper, Ashish Ballal hails from Karnataka.
He played in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and 1994 Sydney World
Cup. But it is his contribution to the Asian Games final match,
in 1998, that he is remembered most for. By the end of regulation
time, South Korea and India had scored only a goal apiece,
resulting in a tiebreaker playoff. Ballal stopped the Korean
strokes twice to win us the Asian Games gold after 36 long years.
The word "Corner" is an integral part of hockey jargon. Forwards
can deflect and score goals from Corners drawn from each flank
on the field. Then there are the Penalty Corners or Short Corners.
Umpires award these for fouls committed inside the striking circle.
At least three players are involved in scoring a Penalty Corner -
a Pusher, a Stopper and, a Hitter or Flicker. These days, quite a
few goals are scored using Penalty Corners, sometimes as many as
four to five per team.
Several stalwarts share the name ‘Charles’ – there must be something
about the name! Charles Stephen from Punjab, and Charles Cornelius
of Tamil Nadu are some of them. While Stephen played in the 1964
Olympics as a forward, goalkeeper Cornelius was the star of the 1972
In hockey parlance, ‘D’ refers to the Striking Circle. This is a
semicircular area clearly marked opposite either goalkeeper’s cage.
Goals, Penalty Corners and Penalty Strokes can be scored from within
these circles only.
Perhaps the greatest hockey player the world has ever seen, Dhyan
Chand was from Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh. He won us three Olympic
golds even while we were a British colony. His birth anniversary
is celebrated as ‘Sports Day’ in India, when the government presents
the Arjuna and Dronacharya awards to meritorious players and coaches.
Modern hockey originated from the European continent, where field
hockey is a summer sport. In fact, European hockey teams from
countries such as the Netherlands and Germany are leaders in the
realm of hockey, and are known for their fast-and-furious style of play.
A case in point is the 2008 Beijing Olympics where Germany took the men’s
hockey gold, while the Netherlands won the women’s event.
Els Van Bredea Vriesman
Ms Vriesman is the president of the Federation Internationale de Hockey,
which is the game’s international governing body.
There are different forms of hockey including field hockey, ice hockey,
roller hockey and street hockey. What we commonly play in India is Field
Hockey, which means it is played on natural or synthetic grounds in the
open. So, can we call our hockey players Field Marshals?!
Scoring goals is the sole objective of this game! Goals can be scored
in three ways - first, Field Goals where forwards outsmart defenders,
enter the striking circle and send the ball inside the net past the
goalkeeper; second, Penalty Corner Goals, which are scored by converting
penalty corners; third, Stroke Goals, where players convert Penalty
Strokes into goals from the penalty spot (seven yards from the net),
in a one-to-one duel between the player and goalkeeper.
Each team has a goalkeeper inside the net, whose duty is to block the
rival forwards from scoring goals. Their position mandates tremendous
skill, courage and reflex. India has produced numerous goalkeepers of
great calibre like Shankar Laxman who was part of three Olympic gold
Hockey is India’s national game. We have won numerous gold medals in
the Olympics, World Cup and Asian Games. It is played across the length
and breadth of our sprawling country.
This forward was regarded a terror is his times - by his opponents,
of course! His fast, accurate and skilful play saw him score countless
goals for India. Nicknamed ‘Hurricane’ Harbinder, he captained India
during the 1972 Asian Games.
Hockey is also played inside closed halls, on wooden pitches. The
playing field is smaller and the players fewer when compared to outdoor
field hockey. Indoor Hockey is very popular in Europe and Oceania, and
there are separate competitions for it, such as the Indoor Hockey World
Hockey is played in schools, colleges, organisations such as Air India,
Indian Oil and Police, and clubs who form and groom teams. Independent
Club is one such club located in Delhi. Formed in the 1930s, it produced
many players for the national team such as RS Gentle.
Jaipal Singh Munda
Jaipal Singh Munda was a student at Cambridge University in
London when he was selected to lead India’s first Olympic
hockey team in 1928. He played as a defender and was known
for his sportsmanship. He later plunged into politics, working
for the cause of adivasis, and went on to win the parliamentary
elections five times from Ranchi.
Jawaharlal Nehru Society
This Delhi based Tournament Society has been organising five
tournaments every year - Sub Junior Nehru Cup, Junior Nehru Cup,
Senior Nehru Cup, Junior Girls Nehru Cup and Champions College
Cup - in which thousands of boys and girls take part.
Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur is regarded as the hockey capital
of Asia. Many tournaments are organised here regularly. India won
its sole World Cup at Kuala Lumpur in 1975, followed by the Azlan
Shah Cup in 1995 and the Champions Challenge Cup in 2001 - lucky
venue for Indian hockey!
Several hockey heroes share the name Kaushik. Jalandhar based Hari
Pal Kaushik played in three Olympics, winning two golds and a silver.
He was also awarded the Param Chakra for his heroism in the 1961 China
War. Another famous figure with the same surname is MK Kaushik, who won
the gold at the Moscow Olympics (1980), and then trained India to win
the 1998 Asian Games. He then went on to coach the women’s team to their
sole Asia Cup victory in 2004.
Leonas, meaning lioness, is what the Argentinean women’s team is called,
for their on-field valour and aggression. They won the World Cup in 2002
while one of their star players, Luciana Aymar, has won the prestigious
FIH Best Player of the Year award for a record four times.
This gifted Anglo-Indian was originally a football player. He then chose
to play hockey for a chance to participate in the Olympics. So he did in
grand style! He was the first Indian to play in four Olympics, winning
three golds and a silver. Other four-time Indian Olympians include Udham
Singh and Dhanraj Pillay.
Michael Kindo is from Orissa, and played for India as a defender for
about a decade during the 70s. He won the Arjuna award in 1972 and is
a World Cup gold medalist.
The Indian Hockey Federation organises the prestigious National
Championship tournaments annually for senior and junior teams from
across the country. The Indian Railways, Punjab, Indian Airlines
and Services are leaders at the Nationals. The last edition was
held in Punjab in 2006 where Punjab and Sind Bank won the gold.
The Indian diaspora settled in other countries share our hockey
heritage. In fact, several play for their adopted countries - Kulbir
Bhaura (England), Hardayal Singh (Kenya) and Kuhan Shanmuganathan
(Malaysia) are some NRI hockey stars.
Arguably the most coveted sporting glory, Olympics are held once in
four years. In the past, hockey has given us several proud moments
at the Olympics, including eight gold, one silver and two bronze medals.
Unfortunately, India did not qualify for the Beijing Olympics.
Oldest Hockey Player
India’s Joe Galibardy is the oldest living hockey Olympian. He was a
member of the team which won the gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
He currently lives in London.
Penalty Corners are awarded to a team when the rival team commits a
foul inside the striking circle. The entire team can attack while
only six players can defend. There are players who specialise in
converting penalty corners to goals.
The name of Dhanraj Pillay is almost synonymous with Indian hockey
today. He has participated four times each in the Olympics, World Cup
and Asian Games, and led India to win the Asian Games gold in 1998
and Asia Cup gold in 2003. Vikram Pillay, also from Pune, though not
related to Dhanraj, is another star player, who won the Junior World
Cup in 2001 and Asia Cup in 2003.
Queens of hockey
Women’s hockey is also very popular in India. Our girls won the gold
in the 1982 Asian Games. A special mention must be made of Rajbir Rai,
then only 16, who scored around 30 goals during the tournament. Pritam
Rani Thakran, Sita Mehta, Surajlata Devi, Jyoti Sunita Kullu and Sumrai
Tete were part of the Commonwealth Games gold winning team in 2002.
Interestingly, the super hit film Chak De! India, was based on this very win.
Surinder Kaur is the current Indian captain.
This is an entertaining form of hockey played on small grounds. This
version of hockey is good for beginners and a great way to sharpen one’s
skills. Rink hockey is popular in the Bandra area of Mumbai.
Sandeep Singh is India’s ace drag-flicker. He scored ten goals in the
Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in 2008 where India won the silver. He plays for
Chandigarh Dynamos in the Premier Hockey League.
For long, hockey was played on natural grass grounds. However, since 1976,
international hockey has been played only on exotic synthetic turfs.
But teams continue to play on other surfaces at the domestic level.
India has about 40 synthetic turf grounds.
The tribal belt covering the states of Orissa and Jhakhand has yielded
several great hockey players. Although the youth there do not have access
to facilities, their determination to excel helps them overcome all obstacles.
They are endowed with a natural flair and hence play the game with panache.
Present day tribal stars in the Indian team include Dilip Tirkey, Iganace Tirkey,
Bimal Lakra and Prabodh Tirkey.
Referees of hockey matches are called umpires. Two umpires officiate in a
match, each standing in their own half. Umpires indicate their decisions
through standard signs. For instance, if they indicate both hands towards
the striking circle while blowing the whistle, it means a goal has been scored.
Satinder Sharma is a famous Indian umpire and has officiated in the Beijing
Indians have had great victories in the recent past. In 2003, India won the
Asia Cup and the Afro-Asian Games, defeating Pakistan on both occasions.
Indian juniors won the Asia Cup in 2004 and 2008. Recently, India’s greatest
victory is of course, winning the Junior World Cup in 2001 at Hobart, Australia,
where we defeated Argentina 6-1 in the final match. Deepak Thakur scored a
hat-trick in the same match.
Vivek Singh, from Varanasi, is a great midfield player. He died in 2004 due to cancer.
Young Xalxo is an upcoming player from Orissa. Electricity has not touched his
hometown and yet, with determination and perseverance, he earned a place in the
Air India Academy at Delhi before being selected for the Athens Olympics.
In hockey, distances are measured by yards. The line that separates the midfield
is called the 25-yard line. The hockey ground is 100 yards long and 80 yards wide.
Umpires flash the Yellow Card to send out errant players out of the field for
specific time intervals such as 5 or 10 minutes, as a measure of punishment.
Hence, players are always watchful so as not to commit any mistakes! The Red Card
is issued for more serious offences and excludes a player from the rest of the game,
Zafar Iqbal was a much feared left-winger. He captained India at the 1982 Asian Games
and the 1984 Olympics.