Once upon a time, hockey was practically the only sport that all Indians were crazy about. This is a time before cricket became a national obsession and took hockey’s place in the country.
Hockey’s popularity was widespread and the Indians excelled at this game. The government portal of India has named hockey under the national sport of the country. With the Wizard, Dhyan Chand, leading the sensational Indian team in the early 20th century, the sport became even more popular.
In the early years, the Indian team dominated the sport but the graph has gone down in the recent years. Nevertheless, we have won many accolades and trophies over the years.
Here we take a trip down the memory lane and select a list of ten greatest moments in Indian hockey history.
#10 Asia Cup wins in 2003, 2004
The Indian men’s field hockey team had previously reached the finals of the Asia Cup four times but had failed to get the better of age-old rivals Pakistan thrice while losing out to South Korea once in 1993.
In 2003, they finally achieved their goal when the crushed Pakistan 4-2 in the finals to lift the sixth Asia Cup. In the classic encounter in Kuala Lumpur, India went on the offensive from the start. However, the match was level at 2-2 at half-time. Eventually, India overcame Pakistan’s challenge to lift the title for the first time.
2004 saw the women’s team replicate their male counterparts’ performance as they won the Asia Cup by beating Japan in the finals in New Delhi.
The men's team thrashed South Korea 7-2 in the 2007 finals when they defended the title successfully.
#9 Asia Games 1966
In the 1966 Asia Games in Bangkok, Thailand, India had sent an inexperienced team banking on youth. The eight countries were divided into two groups and India were in the tougher group along with 1962 Asiad bronze medalists, Malaysia, South Korea and Sri Lanka (Ceylon, as they were known back then). Pakistan qualified for the finals convincingly beating Hong Kong, Thailand and Japan and were favourites to win the gold medal.
India joined their bitter neighbours in the final after beating Malaysia, Sri Lanka and South Korea, The much-hyped final was always a battle of attrition with Pakistan. Those were the days when the two neighbouring countries clashed in only International tournaments, and the Indians were looking to repeat their 1964 Olympics win.
India played a major part of the match with 10 men as substitutions were not allowed at that time but still managed to hold their own and took the contest to extra time.
A limping Balbir Singh joined the action in the second half of extra time and fortuitously scored the match winner and became an instant hero.
#8 Hockey World League 2015
The Indian men’s team had failed to win a single medal in a major FIH tournament for 33 years. They finally managed to break the jinx when they won the bronze medal in the Hockey World League finals played in Raipur when they defeated holders Netherlands in a tense fixture.
The Dutch team had a two goal advantage before the Indians fought back. Six goals were scored in the final 10 minutes of the match, three each by both teams and the match was tied at 5-5 at the end of regulation time.
In the penalty shoot-out custodian, Sreejesh forced errors from Jeroen Hertzberger, Mirco Pruijser and Valentin Verga. For the Indians Birendra Lakra, Sardar Singh and Manpreet Singh all scored to secure a famous victory. The spirited home team went on to claim the bronze medal.
#7 Olympic games (Post-Independence era)
The hockey team from India won three consecutive gold medals in the Olympics from 1948, 1952, and 1956. They claimed the gold medal again in 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
This was the second stage of the golden era of Indian hockey. After World War II, London hosted the Olympic Games in 1948 after a gap of 12 years. Indian legend Dhyan Chand had aged by then and only played in exhibition matches.
Some jurists believe the 1948 medal in London was a bigger triumph, where Great Britain eventually fielded a team for the first time since India entered the Olympic fold. The final was played between Britain and India, and India won 4-0.
However, the Indian team did not look back as they won back to back gold medals in 1948, in 1952 at Helsinki and in 1956 Melbourne Olympics under the leadership of Kishan Lal, K. D. Singh “Babu” and Balbir Singh Sr. respectively. Leslie Claudius’ side narrowly missed out on the gold in the Rome Olympics of 1960, but Charanjit Singh and his boys romped to India’s seventh gold medal in the field hockey event in Tokyo in 1964.
#6 Commonwealth Games 2002 (Indian Women’s hockey team)
The Indian women’s hockey team had not tasted much success previously. The solitary piece of silverware was the gold medal in the 1982 Asian Games. Apart from that, there was not much success story to tell.
Led by Suraj Lata Devi, India put an end to Australia's monopoly in the event. India defeated New Zeland in the semi-final and faced England in the final. The Indian team defeated the much favoured English opponents 3-2 after the end of the regulation time and won the gold medal.
This incident in Manchester, England, a rare moment of glory for the women’s team, served as the inspiration for the 2007 Shah Rukh Khan starring film Chak De! India.
#5 Champions Trophy 2016
India’s best performance in recent times came when they won the silver medal in the 2016 FIH Champions Trophy in the United Kingdom, They had previously won only one bronze medal at the tournament back in 1982.
India faced the ‘best of the best’ Australia in a thrilling final, where they lost on penalties. The Indians refused to bow down to the might of the Kookaburras and fought with grit and vigour.
The Aussies were placed six spots above the Indians in the FIH Rankings. The Indian team won a lot of hearts with their brave display as they held Australia to a goal-less draw at the end of regular time but eventually went down in the shootout.
#4 Asian Games 2014
The field hockey event of the 2014 Asian Games was held in Incheon, South Korea and the winners would qualify automatically for the Rio Olympics 2016. This gave the Indians more purpose to perform well in the tournament.
The Indian hockey team, seeded ninth in the FIH World Rankings, were pooled with Pakistan in the group fixtures. Both progressed to the final where India defeated their rivals in the penalty shoot-out after the game was tied at 1-1.
After 16 years, India won the Gold medal in Asian Games men's hockey tournament and consequently earned a direct berth to the 2016 Summer Olympics hockey tournament.
#3 Olympic Games 1980
A tumultuous period followed the debacle of the 1976 Montreal Olympics for the Indian hockey team. India sent a relatively young side for the Moscow Olympics in 1980, but the team showed their talent as they went on to win the gold medal after a gap of 16 years.
The U.S-led boycott over the Russian presence in Afghanistan marred the Games as six of the strongest hockey sides— New Zealand, Australia and Pakistan, West Germany and Holland — withdrew from the Olympics. Thus it was expected of India to bring home the gold medal.
In the final, the Indians overcame the Spanish challenge and eventually won 4-3. However, not many give much significance to this triumph as India did not have to face the tougher opponents. Yet, the victory helped to halt the downward slide of Indian hockey and restored a modicum of respectability to the sport.
#2 World Cup 1975
The 1975 World Cup was the third edition of the men’s field hockey world championships. India had come third in the first edition in 1971 while in 1973 they improved slightly as they made the finals before losing out to the Netherlands on penalties.
After beating hosts Malaysia 3-2 in the semi-final, India faced their traditional rivals Pakistan in the final. Surjit had opened the scoring for India and the evenly contested match saw Ashok Kumar score the all-important deciding goal in the 2-1 victory in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The victory was a special one as the team was prepared under the patronage of a State government – it was due to an internal feud between two factions of the Indian Hockey Federation– a low-key team that lost to a Pan-American team in the pool shrugged off its lethargy in time and went on to win the World Cup.
#1 Olympic Games (Pre-Independence era)
Hockey had featured in only two Olympic Games prior to 1928 once in 1908 and another time in 1920. India made their Olympic debut in the event in Amsterdam in 1928 and in their debut year they went on to win India’s first ever gold medal ever in an Olympics.
In 1928, the defending champions, Great Britain, interestingly enough, withdrew from the tournament, possibly as a result of having lost 0-4 to India in an exhibition fixture just before the Olympics.
1928 win set in motion a sequence of ten successive medals - seven of them golds - which India secured in the games to follow. This remains a record in men's hockey.
Dhyan Chand, the Wizard, was India’s top performer as they went on to win gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Games under his leadership and also helped the team to victory in 1932.