The Dhyanchand-Bradman meet: When India's greatest hockey player met Australia's greatest batsman
One doesn't need any introduction to these two stalwarts of sports - Major Dhyanchand and Sir Donald Bradman. One captured everyone's imagination through his style, flair and his ability to score a flurry of goals at ease while Don Bradman scored runs as though it was the only thing he was born to do.
Also read: Dhyan Chand: 10 interesting facts
Field Hockey and Cricket have a lot in common and the most obvious being the British connection, who introduced these two sports in both nations. While cricket caught on quickly and Australia were already an established side in the game, the Indian team were still in their first decade of playing field hockey and had already made a mark on the international stage by winning two Olympic gold medals (1928 Amsterdam and 1932 Los Angeles).
To this day, Major Dhyanchand and Sir Donald Bradman remain two of the iconic athletes field hockey and cricket has seen respectively. And they met once - both champions at the peak of their powers shook hands.
Two men coming from different backgrounds and upbringing started their playing career around the same time, peaked together and by the time they met each other - it was not about backgrounds, not the society - it is a case of mutual admiration, respect and understanding for having met a person who knows what it takes to be at the top of their abilities. One such occasion was when Dhyanchand met Donald Bradman in the year 1935 in Adelaide.
Trip down under
Two Olympic participations and two Olympic gold medals. That's how Indian hockey team's CV read when they toured Australia and New Zealand in 1935. It wasn't the first time an Indian team had played matches Down Under. Prior to the Olympic participation, the Indian team under the banner of Indian army had visited Down Under and played 21 matches in New Zealand.
Among them was a 21-year old Dhyanchand, who impressed many with his skills and remarkable goal scoring abilities. Nine years later, he was no longer a rookie - in fact, he was hailed as a 'champion', the best to have played field hockey.
The decision to tour the Oceania was taken a good six months prior to the start of the tour. The Indian Hockey Federation selected a team mostly comprising of youngsters and Dhyanchand. Pankaj Gupta and Behram Doctor were entrusted with the task of managing the team.
The team assembled in Madras on April 13, 1935 where the first match of the tour was played. Then the team left for Colombo where they played a further two exhibition matches.
Finally on April 17, the Indian team left for Fremantle, Australia on the S.S. Largs Bay of the Aberdeen and Commonwealth Line. Indian hockey was still struggling to put together basic funds and hence could not afford travel through air.
The meeting in Adelaide
The original tour was scheduled for New Zealand alone. The news of Indian hockey team in Australia spread and several of the state associations from the major cities sent in their requests (via wire) to host the Indian team - after all, it was an honour to host the two-time and the reigning Olympic champions.
The Indian team landed in Perth on April 27. A hockey match followed by a reception became the norm for this Indian team. After Perth, it was time to visit Adelaide and to a lot of Indians, they knew it was also the land of Donald Bradman, an ace cricketer who had created quite an image for himself in cricket. During the reception hosted by the Mayor of Adelaide, Pankaj Gupta sent in the request on behalf of the hockey team to see if they can meet Donald Bradman.
To their luck, Bradman was in the city. The ace cricketer obliged this request and visited the Indian team at the City Hall and even posed for a photograph. The same evening, Bradman witnessed his first ever hockey match which saw Indians score a thumping win against a South Australia XI 10-1.
This occasion happened to be the only occasion where the two wizards came face to face and retrospectively, this 'meeting of legends' will go down as one of the iconic moments in the history of sports.
The Indian tour went on as the team toured Melbourne and Sydney before travelling to New Zealand. A total of 48 matches were played and the Indian team scored 584 goals while conceding just 40 goals. Dhyanchand, for whom it turned out to be yet another successful tour scored a staggering 201 goals from 43 matches he took part. Not surprisingly, team India won all their matches and looked good to retain their Olympic medal with a year to go.
To quote James A. Baldwin - "Every legend, moreover, contains its residuum of truth, and the root function of language is to control the universe by describing it."
Eighty years ago, this was seen as an occasion of two athletes meeting who were at the top of their sports. And if one looks back, Major Dhyanchand and Sir Donald Bradman still remain at the top of their sport and probably will never be taken away from that position for what they have achieved in hockey and cricket respectively.