Tribute to Sylvanus Dung Dung - An unsung hero in Indian hockey
“I would with such perfection govern, sir, T’excel the golden age”. ~ Sir William Shakespeare.
If you are here to glance through a piece which has unparalleled on-field works written in it, I’m sorry, you landed in the wrong place. Neither does this contain elephantine records nor for that sake anything on the statistical front. And in case you happen to be a fanatic of cricket who would wish to read a eulogy on legends in the evening of their careers, I apologize to have hurt you unknowingly.
This, my write-up, is all but a miniature tribute to a man in hockey circles, who in the golden age of the game and his, plucked the ball amidst the grass to perfection. In other words, it’s never easy to dish out a tribute, for we cannot appraise its real worth, because our character in the tribute has done something extraordinary only a few in its time managed to.
Before I set out, let me take pride to congratulate the Indian Junior Women’s team for standing on the podium in Monchegladbach, Germany, to collect their bronze medals at the recently concluded World Cup. It is indeed a new dawn for hockey in the nation and, in particular, to the women’s game. My greetings extend to their coach, the management, to the heads of Indian Hockey and last but not least, the undeniable support from the kith and kin of the players.
Now then, coming to the point of my mention initially, this piece is all about a man who struck the golden goal and brought home its last gold medal at the Olympics. The opponents are Spain; the legend, Sylvanus Dung Dung. Mention the name Jharkhand to any sports fan today, and we would be hearing the name M S Dhoni without any hesitation. But that’s not what this state is famous for. It is rich with minerals and an abundance of hockey talent. More than 10 Internationals, with 3 women, along with this legend, raised high to represent the nation and brought laurels.
Nearly two years after the nation’s Independence, in the Simdega district, on 27th January, 1941, S Dung Dung was born. As a child, he was bred with passion, hard work and pride which he carried in everything that he did in his future. Those were the times when patriotism among the citizens prevailed at peak level. And this man too, to serve his country, joined the prestigious Indian Army on 27th January, 1965 on his 24th birthday.
Hockey was at its usual best with the subcontinent teams dominating the world and establishing their own empire. After a gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo games and two successive bronze medals, at Mexico and Munich in 1968 and 1972, India missed the podium in Montreal, 1976. An elusive regulation golden triumph was long due to a country which narrated and exhibited how to play the game. Adding to this misery was the sixth place finish at Buenos Aires, Argentina in the 1978 Hockey World Cup. But times have changed and so did the reality of the game.
Now, the year was 1980, the month was July. The Indian team fully loaded with talent left for Moscow. Vasudevan Bhaskaran was the captain, Allan Schoefield was the goalkeeper and in the vacant position of right-back, we had this legend all geared up with the hockey stick to bring home the elusive gold. Playing on the right side of the ground, he was totally adept at clearing the ball, making off -the ball runs, marking and tackling, and helping in the course of the match.
He was an intelligent player who possessed the needed stamina and power to tackle many an opposition. After having thrashed Tanzania 18 – 1 and made the Cuban team look like hapless creatures by beating them 13 – 1, India took the game to Soviet Union (now Russia) and won 4 -1. The stage was now set for a grand finale against a resurgent Spain. The works of S Dung Dung on the right side of the field were priceless. He was at his personal best.
The day now was 26th July, and the occasion, an Olympic final. Back on the other side of the grass, the nation was in full anticipation to see the team standing on top of the podium. The euphoria knew no limits. Crowds gathered, players were ready, and the referee whistled the start. Spain scored, and so did India. In no time, the scores were level at 3 -3. Tensions were building up, time speeding and the crowds literally at the edge of their seats.
It was that moment; this master craftsman took the game to the opposition. His defensive skills were priceless and the fortunate ones were those who watched in real-time. They say, cometh the hour, cometh the champion. Yes, when the situation really demanded, our legend lived up to the occasion and struck that decisive golden goal and handed the nation an unprecedented 8th gold medal for at the Olympics. The nation drowned in celebrations. He was truly the architect of this historic win.
He later would go on to represent the nation in the 4-Nation Quadrangular in Kuala Lumpur (1980), the Bihar and Services teams in the Rangaswami Cup, the national hockey championship, between 1977 and 1981, before eventually retiring in 1988. Yet, above his sterling performances with the hockey stick, one thing I find great in him is with the humility he greets and speaks to everyone. One can truly learn that from him. As Shakespeare says, in the golden age, when the situation demanded, our legend S Dung Dung struck perfection and lived from thereon.
My respects to this unsung hero.