Saturday, July 14, 2012

1968 Olympics: India's slide in hockey begins

By Anand Philar 
Behind the veneer of "unity" and "team spirit" that was projected to the public, Indian hockey was almost torn apart by petty politics, groupism and ego clashes in the months leading to the 1968 Mexico Olympics where Indian hockey's slide well and truly began.

Just four years after regaining the Olympic hockey gold medal, the squad was split vertically as two players, Prithipal Singh and Gurbux Singh openly fought for captaincy that put Indian hockey in poor light. Eventually, a "compromise" was struck and the two were named "joint captain". It was a recipe for disaster.

Also, complacency had set in as India had won the Asian Games gold medal in 1966, triggering euphoria and a false sense of well-being. The fact that other international sides were fast catching up was glossed over as was the bickering within the team until the captaincy issue raised its ugly head.

The team was provided some high-altitude training in the Nilgiris considering the conditions in Mexico City that is located some 2,300 metres above sea level. The players did benefit physically, but it was offset by the split in the team.

Besides two captains, the team also included three players with same name - Balbir Singh. One of them was from the Railways and the brother of skipper Gurbux Singh playing at outside-right, the second was from the Services at right-half, and the third from Punjab Police in the inside-right position. All the three played together only in one match, the bronze medal play-off against Germany.

The start to the campaign was rather ominous as India went down 1-2 to New Zealand, but victories against West Germany (2-1), Mexico (8-0), Spain (1-0) and Belgium (2-1) put the team back on track. India were gifted five goals, though they did not score even one, when their opponents Japan walked out protesting a penalty stroke awarded against them in the 55th minute.

India then beat East Germany 1-0 in their concluding league game to come up against Australia in the semi-finals that they lost 1-2, but overcame West Germany 2-1 in the bronze medal playoff to finish third. It was the first time that India did not figure in an Olympic hockey final. The discerning, who did not include the federation officials, saw the "demotion" as another definite sign of Indian hockey's slide, but they were in the minority.

Indian team: Prithipal Singh (joint captain), Gurbux Singh (joint captain), Munir Sait, Rajendran Absolem Christy, Dharam Singh, Balbir Singh (Services), Jagjit Singh, Perumal Krishnamurthy, Harmek Singh, Ajit Pal Singh, Balbir Singh (Services), Victor John Peter, Harbinder Singh, Inder Singh, Balbir Singh (Railways), Inam-ur Rehman, Tarsem Singh, Gurbaksh Singh(Railways).

League - India lost to New Zealand 1-2 (Prithipal Singh 1).
India beat West Germany 2-1 (Harbinder Singh 1; Balbir Singh (Services) 1).
India beat Mexico 8-0 (Harbinder 3; Balbir Singh (Services) 1; Prithipal 2; Ajit Pal Singh 1; Inder Singh 1).
India beat Spain 1-0 (Prithipal Singh 1).
India beat Belgium 2-1 (Prithipal Singh 1; Harbinder Singh 1).
India beat Japan 5-0 (Walkover after 55 minutes after Japan walk out in protest).
India beat East Germany 1-0 (Prithipal Singh 1).
Semi-finals: India lost to Australia 1-2 (Balbir Singh (Services) 1)
Bronze medal playoff: India beat West Germany 2-1 (Prithipal Singh 1; Balbir Singh (Railways)1).

Positions: Pakistan 1; Australia 2; India 3; West Germany 4; The Netherlands 5; Spain 6; New Zealand 7; Kenya 8; Belgium 9; France 10; East Germany 11; Great Britain 12; Japan 13; Argentina 14; Malaysia 15; Mexico 16.

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