The forgotten jewel in Indian sport

On 15th March 1975, a group of remarkable athletes led India to a maiden World Cup title in hockey. We take a look back at one of India’s greatest triumphs.

MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP

Led by captain Ajit Pal Singh, India won the third edition of the prestigious Hockey World Cup to add to its rich legacy in the sport. The day is still marked as one of the most illustrious ones in Indian sport.

But what makes the 1975 World Cup win so iconic? Apart from the sheer enormity of the title that was up for grabs, here are some fascinating facts:

The Only World Cup Win

On the team’s return to India after being crowned as world champions, the nation was filled with joy and exuberance, as it would after such an achievement. But more than anything else, this win was about the honour that these athletes deserved, who often had to live under the shadow of India’s Olympic champions. It was, as it turned out, a final hurrah on a surface which Indian hockey had made its own. 40 years since, we look back at the 1975 edition as the last World Cup on natural grass.

India’s semifinal clash versus Malaysia is considered as one of the most pulsating matches of its time. With a 2-1 lead in the match and a massive fan support behind them, hosts Malaysia seemed unstoppable on the day. But Aslam Sher Khan had ideas of his own. With time running out, he scored to equalize and took the match into extra time. India then went on to seal the match to set up a clash against Pakistan in the final.

The ‘Legend’ Connection

Apart from being watched by over 40,000 fans at the stadium, the India-Pakistan final was also aired live on state-owned channels in both countries. In those days, this was pretty much a rarity. The tense final was tied at 1-1 for most of the time but it was Ashok Kumar’s heroics (little wonder for the son of the legendary Major Dhyan Chand) under pressure, which helped India register this golden chapter of Indian hockey.

India scored a total of 19 Goals in 7 matches during the tournament, seven of which came from a single match against Ghana in the pool stages. India topped Pool B, but did suffer an upset against Argentina, who eventually finished 5th in Pool B.

Not To Forget, A Certain Balbir Singh

India’s Chief Coach and Manager during the tournament was the legendary Balbir Singh Senior, who was a key figure in three of India’s Olympic Gold medal victories. The Padma Shri awardee played a masterstroke in the semifinal, when he brought in Aslam Sher Khan at a crucial point in the match, when there was no assurance that a penalty corner would come India’s way. It did, and the rest is history!

To put the magnitude of this achievement in perspective, it’s worth a mention that India has never reached the last four in a World Cup ever since. One wonders whether this being the last edition to be played on natural grass had a little something to do with it!

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