N. Mukesh Kumar recalls the highs and lows of his stint at previous Olympics
Nandnuri Mukesh Kumar is the best-known face from Hyderabad in the world of hockey. This fleet-footed, right-winger of yesteryear, who was a menace to the best of defences, perhaps, justifiably takes pride in reminding that he scored the fastest goal ever in Olympics hockey history – in 32 seconds after the commencement of the match.
“In the 2000 Sydney Games against Australia. it all happened in a flash. The moment I got the ball from the centre, I had a solo run down the right-flank before zeroing into close to the ‘D’ only to essay a sliding effort which landed in the goal to the surprise of not just the goalkeeper but the entire crowd there,” recalls a beaming Mukesh, the only hockey player from the city to feature in three Olympics (1992, 1996 and 2000 editions).
From the by-lanes of Sikh Village in Secunderabad where he first dabbled with the hockey stick and then getting his raw talent moulded by two of the finest hockey coaches Abharanam and Doraiswamy, Mukesh is apparently the most famous hockey player from Hyderabad with an illustrious record at the highest level.
“Yes, I remember the first Olympics in Barcelona. Honestly, it was a disaster. The pressure was palpable as I fumbled with the push-ins in penalty-corners. Certainly, not the start I was expecting in such a big event especially after such a wonderful European tour earlier under Balkishen Singh who believed in total hockey concept,” recalls the shy hockey international.
For someone who played 307 internationals over a period of 15 years with unparalleled mastery on the right-flank in Indian hockey, Mukesh gives a lot of credit to his equally great teammate and mercurial Dhanraj Pillay and right-in Sabu Varkey. “It was a pleasure to play with them and I can vouch that every team feared the moment we were in control. Yet, it is a pity that we could not ever finish on the medal podium in Olympics despite scripting some great moments otherwise — like the 1995 SAF Games gold defeating Pakistan in Chennai,” he says.
On the Atlanta Games, Mukesh reminds that they had one of the best line-ups comprising himself, Pillay, Varkey, Dhillon, Jude Felix, Gavin Ferreira. But, our terrible showing against Argentina which was a story of missed chances and also misplaced game-plans did us in,” he looks back.
Clearly dejected at the fact that one of the most sought-after dreams of his otherwise magnificent career – to win an Olympic medal – was not realised, Mukesh felt that Sydney Olympics was the closest in recent times. “All we were looking for was a win against Poland to book a slot in the semi-finals. Our start was fantastic as I scored a goal in 31 seconds. Things were smooth till our game against Poland. Perhaps, a two-day break before that game proved costly as we seemed to have lost focus in the crucial encounter and made too many mistakes,” he explains.
Worse, Mukesh had to sit out in the dying seconds of the match because of a yellow card against Poland for a rough tackle in that match.
“I remember how everyone was after me. But my intention was to go for the goal. Yes, maybe by conceding the goal in that decisive phase we let Poland draw the match and bow out of the Olympics,” he rues now. “It still rankles me,” he adds.
But, Mukesh is now hoping for the best from the current Indian hockey team and wishes that it will come up with a special performance despite being plagued by injuries.