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Thank you Mohammed Shahid for those dribbles and magical stick work

962   //    25 Jul 2016, 10:17 IST
His playing style and charisma inspired future legends like Dhanraj Pillay to take up the sport.

On July 20, 2016, Mohammad Shahid passed away after battling kidney and liver problems at a Gurgaon hospital . Tributes poured in from sports fraternity, Government and fans. Indian hockey probably lost the best player who played donning the blue shirt in the astroturf era.

Shahid started his career for India during the inaugural 1979 Junior World Cup in France. Then after an invincible performance in Aga Khan Cup, he was called for the senior team to play for India in the four-nation tournament in Kuala Lumpur under the captaincy of Vasudevan Baskaran. In Kuala Lumpur, he earned the best player of the tournament award and it was the start of his illustrious career for Team India.

He was part of the team which won the Olympic Gold in Moscow. In fact, that was India’s last Olympic medal in hockey. These were times when Shahid was getting noticed for his special speedy dribbling skills. He formed a lethal pair with former Indian skipper Zafar Iqbal.

“From running at great speed, Shahid used to stop like an engine getting seized and dodge the rival defenders. The Europeans were clueless about him. I was lucky to play with him”, remarked Zafar.

Also Read: Mohammed Shahid: Remembering the Dribbling Genius

Somaya who played three Olympics with Shahid said, “It was riveting to watch him, for he simply excelled at dribbling. He was a connoisseur of dribbling, better than Pakistan's Hassan Sardar who was an absolute legend. Nobody could touch Shahid. His beauty was his jugglery”. He was awarded the 'Best Forward player' at the 1980 Champions Trophy in Karachi.

After the Olympic gold, it was 1982 Asian Games silver at home for India but it will be remembered more for the 1-7 loss to Pakistan in finals. Pakistan had applied special plans to stop Zafar and Shahid in the finals, the duo were in top form and was rated as the best-attacking forwards in the world.

“I was captaining the team and was very well aware of how difficult it would be to defeat India in final in front of their home crowd. Zafar and Shahid were in top form and I remember that we made special plans to control them and it succeeded”, said Samiullah, Pakistan skipper of 1982 Asian Games.

Shahid won the best player award in 1986 World Cup held in London in spite of India finishing last in that World Cup. This was his individual brilliance. In 1986 Asian Games Shahid lead India to a bronze medal. Shahid also led India in 1988 Olympics, where India finished sixth.  

Both in 1984 and 1988 Olympics final group games were the deciding factor for qualifying for the semifinals. In 1984 India needed a win against West Germany but ended up with a draw. In 1988, they need a win against Great Britain but ended up losing the game 0-3.

Though Shahid and Zafar pair was a lethal combination till LA 1984 Olympics but later in his career, he could not take India to any World Cup or an Olympics podium finish in spite of being one of the greatest player in the world and he probably played his best hockey during mid-eighties.

Maybe he didn’t get the much-required support from his teammates, after all, it’s a team game and a champion is as good as his team. Once when the Hockey Federation of India had organized an evening to felicitate the Olympians in Delhi before the Barcelona Games, Shahid had walked up to Dhanraj Pillai and Mukesh Kumar, he put his arms around them and had said, “if I'd had you two for support on the field when I was at my peak, we could have done wonders together”.

He taught us that you can conquer the world with a hockey stick

On the field, he entertained fans with his masterly dribble and stick work, off the field he too was an entertainer. As told by former India goalkeeper Mir Ranjan Negi, “On the field, Shahid would entertain the masses. Off it, he was bindaas too, the life of any party. There was a function in Kolkata organized by Leslie Claudius for former and modern hockey greats, and Shahid just went onto the stage, grabbed the microphone and started singing songs and ghazals”.

Post retirement he led a simple life working for Indian Railways away from the limelight in Banaras, back to his roots and to the city which he loved so much. He once said, "People say had he moved on from Banaras, Shahid would have become something. Maybe, it's true. But to them, I say if there was no Banaras, there wouldn't be Mohammed Shahid". He was a humble man, who wanted to live a simple life with his family.

The Moscow Olympics gold was undoubtedly Shahid’ s only medal of status for his caliber; he also lived through Indian hockey's biggest humiliation, a 1-7 defeat by arch rival Pakistan in the Asian Games final in 1982. Even not making it to the podium of Los Angeles and Seoul Olympics might have been very hard for a world class talent like Shahid.

Best tribute current Team India can give this legendary hockey great is a podium finish at Rio Olympics 2016.

Thank you, Shahid, for those dribbles and magical stick work. You will continue to inspire generations to come!

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Freelance sports writer and an independent Olympic games researcher.
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