It was a wonder that India managed to field a team for the 1948 Olympics which were held on the conclusion of the World War II and a year after the traumatic partition that threw the sub-continent into a massive turmoil. But a record fourth gold medal brought back smiles on the faces of the people, who were struggling to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of the partition.
However, the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) with Naval Tata as its president, worked overtime to put together a team that represented a new generation of players, all of whom were set to make their Olympic debut, and some destined for greatness. A suggestion to field a joint India-Pakistan team had no takers and the two countries decided to form separate squads.
There were as many as eight players from Bombay in the squad led by Kishan Lal of the Railways. The contingent also included the likes of Leslie Claudius who went on to play four Olympics and Balbir Singh (Punjab) who became a legend in his own right.
In fact, Balbir starred in India’s 8-1 win against Argentina by scoring six goals. However, he was dropped for the next two games in which his absence manifested itself when India struggled to beat Spain 2-0 (quarterfinals) and Holland 2-1 (semifinals).
Balbir’s replacements, Nandy (Grahanandan) Singh and Gerry Glacken who came on to the pitch only moments before the bully-off, were no match for the wily centre-forward who was brought back for the final against Britain following an uproar and he promptly marked his presence by scoring two of the four goals as India won 4-0 for their fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal.
The ground conditions for the final that was played immediately after the Pakistan-Holland bronze medal game, were wretched, but Balbir sent India on their way with a goal early in the match and another just before half-time. Pat Jensen and Trilochan Singh scored one apiece on resumption as Independent India retained their hockey crown.
Incidentally, Nandy Singh himself was a late replacement for Reginald Rodrigues who was quarantined on arrival in London due to a throat infection. Rodrigues was also involved in another incident during the ship journey to London.
Rodrigues, after being disciplined by manager A.C. Chatterjee, sneaked into the official’s room, took the costly presents and the wallet containing documents and traveler’s cheques, and threw them into the sea. Joint Manager Pankaj Gupta investigated and identified Rodrigues as the culprit.
Indian team: Kishan Lal (captain), Ranganathan Francis, Leo Pinto, Walter D’Souza, Tarlochan Singh Bawa, Akhtar Hussain, Randhir Singh Gentle, Kunwar Digvijay Singh ‘Babu’, Keshav Dutt, Amir Kumar, Maxie Vaz, Leslie Claudius, Balbir Singh, Patrick Jansen, Latifur Rehman, Lawrie Fernandes, Gerald Glacken, Reginald Rodrigues, Grahanandan Singh, Jaswant Singh Rajput.
League – India beat Austria 8-0 (Kunwar Digvijai Singh ‘Babu’ 2; Patrick Jensen 4; Kishan Lal 1; Reginald Rodriques 1).
India beat Argentina 9-1 (Balbir Singh 6; Patrick Jansen 2; Krishan Lal 1).
Quarterfinal: India beat Spain 2-0 (Tarlochan Singh 1; Kunwar Digvijai Singh ‘Babu’ 1).
Semifinal: India beat Holland 2-1 (Gerald Glacken 1; Kunwar Digvijai Singh ‘Babu’ 1).
Final: India beat Britain 4-0 (Balbir Singh 2; Patrick Jansen 1; Tarlochan Singh 1).
Positions: India 1; Great Britain 2; The Netherlands 3; Pakistan 4; Argentina 5; Switzerland 6; Belgium 7; Austria 8; Afghanistan 9; France 10; Spain 11; USA 12; Denmark 13.