India won bronze in Men’s hockey at the Tokyo Olympics in August, earlier this year, quenching a drought of 41-long years. After crashing out in the semi-final against world no. 1 Belgium in a rather gallant manner, India pieced together itself and put in an incredible shift, showing tremendous character against the mighty Germans, ultimately piping them to win the hard-earned bronze medal.
The character shown by the team epitomised the character shown by the invincible generation of the hockey world, which just so happened to be an Indian team. The Indian men’s team had won six consecutive golds from 1928 to 1956 before the golden run came to a screeching halt at the 1960 Rome Olympics. What added insult to injury was the fact that the neighboring country of Pakistan won the medal.
A wounded team seeking redemption:
Nursing the wounds of missing out on a golden opportunity, the Indian team went through the rigours of another four-year Olympic cycle – qualifying and ultimately reaching the shores of Tokyo to restore the parity.
Harbinder Singh, a key member of the Olympic contingent summed up the mission of the team, “There was a lot of pressure after the defeat in 1960. There was so much passion for the sport in the country that nothing less than gold was acceptable. More so, because Pakistan had also beaten India in the 1962 Asian Games final.”
India opened the tournament with a convincing 2-0 victory over Belgium and settled for a draw in the next game – a first for the Indian side. Another draw followed against Germany.
India adopting a new style of play:
The media, as fickle as today’s media, was quick to write off the champions, who had stood on the podium on six occasions earlier. However, the mentality monsters quickly shrugged off the disappointment and got on with the process.
It looked like the Indian side was still warming up to the new style of play they had adopted in the run-up to the Olympics. Instead of playing the cute, one-touch, artistic hockey, India switched gears to keep the Europeans at bay by playing a physically demanding game, that needed extreme work rate from all 11 men on the pitch.
The final frontier:
With the Indian Cricket team facing Pakistan tomorrow in the World Cup, the tension is palpable. The situation was no different back then. The coverage was extensive and everyone waited with bated breaths for the final rendezvous.
The stage was set as ‘the War on Komazawa Turf’ began. Pakistan had hacked and slashed their way through to the finals, beating Australia, Great Britain, and hosts Japan, in the process. While India was playing a physical game, Pakistan took it a notch above by being abrasive, rough, and brash.
Such was the physicality in the match that the referee had to line up the teams once again in the middle of the match and ask them to behave themselves.
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Goalless at half time, both teams came out of the blocks sharply in the second half but it was the Indian team that seized in on the initiative and drew the first blood. Through a penalty corner that was later turned into a penalty stroke, Mohinder Lal drilled one at the back of the net to give India the lead.
Pakistan tried hard to come back but the resolute Indian defense didn’t allow anything to penetrate the box. Much like the last-minute save by PR Sreejesh against Germany, Pakistan scored a bucketful of penalty corners. However, they couldn’t breach the unit of a man that was Shankar Lakshman, manning the goalpost.
The Tokyo-Indian Hockey love story:
In the end, India emerged on top and put behind the heartbreak of four years ago, as the players burst into Bhangra to celebrate their 7th Olympic gold medal. And that’s how the War on Komazawa Turf was won.
It appears that Tokyo and Indian Hockey have an eternal love story that always manages to cook something special and long-lasting. A turbulent period followed afterward in Indian Hockey, but the 1964 win remains a special one to savor.