August 29 marks the Birthday of legendary Indian Hockey player Dhyan Chand. Here is our ode to the legend who changed the face of Hockey in India.
Indian Hockey Team had a glorious past. They gave nightmares to every other team in the world. India won 8 gold medals in field hockey in the Olympics.Three of them were won in succession- 1928, 1932 and 1936. Major Dhyan Chand was the chief architect of India’s dominance over the world of hockey in those three Olymic triumphs.
Standing 5 feet & 7 inches tall, Dhyan Chand was, and still is, regarded as the best hockey player the world has ever seen. He was known for his lightning fast stick-work and unmatched dribbling skills. A player who scored more than 1000 goals in competitive hockey between 1926 and 1948, he was highly determined and committed towards his team, be it the Regimental Army team or the Indian national team.
Early History of Dhyan Chand
Dhyan Chand was born in 1905 in Allahabad. His father Sameshwar Dutt Singh was an officer in the Army.Due to his frequent army transfers, young Dhyan Chand had to quit education after 6 years of schooling. He didn’t have any serious interest towards sports but like most kids of that time, he loved wrestling. He slowly took to playing hockey after he joined the Army in 1921. His interest grew and he used to practice during the night, after his duty hours.
He played various Army hockey tournaments and Regimental games between 1922 and 1926. His impressive performances earned him a place in the Indian Army team which was scheduled to tour New Zealand for a hockey series. The Indian team won 18 matches, with 2 draws and lost only 1 game, thanks to Dhyan Chand. He was promoted to the Lance Naik, a rank in the Indian Army. In the interim, the Indian Hockey Federation came into existence and they decided to prepare an Indian men’s hockey team for the upcoming Amsterdam Olympics in 1928. Dhyan Chand was included in the team as a center forward.
1928 Olympics Amsterdam – 14 goals by Dhyan Chand:
India was placed in Group A along with Austria, Denmark, Belgium and Switzerland. India announced their arrival in style as they defeated Austria in their first match 6-0. This included a hat-trick by Dhyan Chand. His performances in the other games were as follows:
India 9-0 Belgium (Dhyan Chand scored 1 goal)
India 5-0 Denmark (Dhyan Chand scored 3 goals)
Semifinal: India 6-0 Switzerland (Dhyan Chand scored 4 goals).
He wasn’t available for the finals due to some illness but India beat host Netherlands 3-0. In all, Dhyan Chand scored 14 goals in 5 matches.
1932 Olympics-Los Angeles – 11 goals by Dhyan Chand
Only three teams played hockey in this edition of the Olympics. U.S.A., Japan and India. India played their first game against Japan and defeated them 11-1, with Dhyan Chand scoring thrice.
The margin grew bigger in their next game, the final against U.S.A. when they beat them 24-1. This was a world record at that time. Dhyan Chand scored 8 times. A whopping 35 goals were scored in 2 games and Dhyan Chand and his brother Roop Singh accounted for 25 of these goals.
1934 Tour of New Zealand:
Dhyan Chand’s skills improved match after match and at this point of his career, he was invincible. The Indian Hockey federation agreed to a bilateral hockey series against New Zealand and Dhyan Chand was appointed captain.
A total of 48 matches were played (28 in New Zealand and 20 in India), and India swept the series 45-02, 1 match was drawn. Dhyan Chand played 43 matches and scored 201 goals @ 4.6 goals per match.
1936 Olympics – Berlin
Team India and Dhyan Chand’s winning streak continued as they pocketed their third consecutive gold medal in the Olympics. India stomped their way through the group stages with scores of 4-0 against Hungary, 7-0 against USA and 9-0 against Japan with Dhyan Chand scoring on 6 occasions.
The semifinal result was even better where they beat France 10-0, with Dhyan Chand contributing 4 times. The gold medal match was against Germany. A tense first half ended with a score of 0-0 but India came out all guns blasting and their counter-attacking helped them win the match 8-1. Rumors say that Adolf Hitler, who was present during the match, was so impressed by Dhyan Chand’s game that he asked him to play hockey for Germany. In turn, he offered him a high post in the German military. Dhyan Chand did what any soldier who loves his motherland would do- turn down the offer.
Return to Army Life for Dhyan Chand post Olympic Glory
After leading three consecutive successful Olympic campaigns, Dhyan Chand returned to India and resumed his Army duties. He also led his regiment in the Beighton cup for many seasons. He also led the national team in the East African tournament in 1947. Even at the age of 42, Dhyan Chand played like a teenager full of energy. He scored 61 goals in 22 matches.
Life After hockey
Dhyan Chand retired in 1956, with the rank of Major in the Army. In the same year, he was honoured with the Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian award. After retiring, Dhyan Chand took up coaching camps at Mount Abu, Rajasthan. He also held the position of the Chief coach of the national hockey team for several years.
Major Dhyan Chand spent his last days in his hometown Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh. Sadly, these days weren’t happy because he was financially weak and was badly ignored by the nation. He died of liver cancer in 1979 at AIIMS, Delhi. He was cremated at the Jhansi Heroes ground in his hometown and the Punjab Regiment accorded him full military honours.
Every year, Major Dhyan Chand’s birthday is celebrated as National Sports Day. On this day, the President gives away major sports awards like the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, the Arjuna Award and the Dronacharya Award. He was among the nominees considered for the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award for 2014 but the award was given to noted scientist C.N.R. Rao and cricketing maestro Sachin Tendulkar.
Legacy Lives On
Dhyan Chand’s son Ashok Kumar (1950-present) has also represented India in the Olympic games, Asian games and the World Cup. He was part of the Indian team which won the bronze medal in the 1972 Munich Olympics and gold medal in the 1975 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur.