London: What do Zafar Iqbal, Davinder Singh and Muhammad Umar Bhutta have in common? All of them scored a goal each – more than three and a half decades apart – that’s registered in the history books, but not one they would want to remember. It was a goal scored against their arch-rivals, but in a losing cause.
On Sunday, when India were scoring goals for fun, one man in the Pakistan dugout – their manager Abdul Hanif Khan – had sights from 1980 and 1982 flashing across his eyes. Pakistan had beaten India 7-1 in those games at the Champions Trophy and the Asian Games, respectively. Hanif broke sweat as a player in the two historic wins. On June 18 2017, he realised what it feels like in the losing camp after a historic defeat. This time, India had won 7-1.
“Yeh ek bahut buri haar hai Pakistan ke liye aur India ke liye bahut badi jeet. Isse India ka morale up hoga [It’s a big win for India and a bigger defeat for Pakistan, it will lift India],” the bespectacled Hanif, sitting head down in his green tracksuit, told The Field.
He was all at sea thinking what went wrong, shaking his head repeatedly, followed by a chuckle of disappointment.
“The same team played well in New Zealand [before Hockey World League]. Pata nahi kya ho gaya hai, nazar kha gayi ya kisi ne jadu tona kar diya, samajh nahi aa raha [don’t know what went wrong, seems like team is hit by black magic],” Hanif said at the end of a deep breath.
Scars of the 1982 loss
Of the three 7-1 scorelines, the win for Pakistan in 1982 was on the biggest stage – the Asian Games final. And it featured the biggest of Pakistan players besides Hanif himself, Kaleemullah, Hasan Sardar and Manzoor Jr to name a few. That team was on a roll and the then reigning World Cup winners.
The occasion brought every Indian under its spell, with the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in attendance at the spanking new National Stadium in Delhi. Such was the enormity of the occasion that Rajinder Singh Sr, India’s penalty-corner specialist, took injections to recover from a ligament injury that had kept him from playing any role in the tournament before the final. For the record, Mir Ranjan Negi and the wizard Late Muhammad Shahid also played that game.
India took the lead through Zafar’s penalty-stroke conversion, but that was all the crowd had to cheer about. According to reports, Indira Gandhi walked out of the stadium after Hanif scored Pakistan’s fourth goal just after half-time.
Such were the scars of the defeat that, since that day, India have never reached the semi-finals of any Olympics or World Cup.
“Our players didn’t want to come off the field,” Hanif recalled. “The players of that era, be it from India or Pakistan, were great. But at that time Pakistan was among the top hockey nations in the world; India was very weak in front of Pakistan. Only three teams used to give fight to Pakistan – Holland, Germany and Australia.”
The tables, though, have turned massively since 2010. India are winning more and closing the gap in win/loss record against the estranged neighbours. In 28 matches, including the win in London on Sunday, India are ahead 13/8, apart from seven draws.
“Yeh team to final khelegi [this Indian team will play the final],” a visibly impressed Hanif said about India in an assured tone, “India is miles ahead of the Pakistan currently.”
If it was Hanif, Kaleemullah and Hasan Sardar who tore Indian defence apart in 1982, it was the turn of Akashdeep Singh, Talwinder Singh and Harmanpreet Singh (two goals each) to pay back in 2017. Though the two occasions were miles apart in magnitude and while Pakistan’s class at its lowest ebb, it takes nothing away from India’s win. They did what they had to do, that Pakistan not being able to do the same is their own felony.
“Pakistan didn’t pay attention to its domestic structure and are paying the price for it. Hamari hockey 25 saal se pichhe chal rahi hai [we have slipped over the last 25 years],” Hanif said.
“Pakistan players don’t have jobs. The government should make them financially secured and at peace with a monthly salary. Maa baap kab tak support karenge [how long can the parents support],” he added.
From India’s perspective, this win, even though against a weakened Pakistan, substantiates the team’s effort to re-establish its standing in world hockey. That effort exhibits in their No 6 rank in FIH rankings – highest among Asian nations. And if a win against Netherlands follows on Tuesday, it will be another significant step in that direction.