Ashok Kumar and Aslam Sher Khan. Two names from the past, a golden chapter of Indian hockey, when the team was crowned world champion at Kuala Lumpur in 1975. Aslam scored to equalise in a pulsating situation, with time running out, to take the match against Malaysia into extra time. Ashok tapped in to leave Pakistan shattered in the final.
“I have relived the goal countless times,” said Ashok. “How can I forget the goal,” gushed Aslam. The glory of Indian hockey at the Olympics was revisited by a bunch of motivated players. The manager of the team, Balbir Singh (Sr), knew the sweet taste of victory. He had won the gold thrice at the Olympics.
India trailed Malaysia 1-2. In utter despair, defeat staring in the face, Balbir (Sr) pushed Aslam into the battlefield. “He patted my cheeks and said only god can save us.
“It was an emotional moment for me. Where was the assurance that we might earn a penalty corner. We got one and I suddenly felt all the pressure on my shoulders,” recalled Aslam.
On radio, commentator Jasdev Singh had made a prophetic observation. “Aslam will be India’s saviour.” The Merdeka Stadium was packed with hardly any voice of support for India. As B.P. Govinda pushed and Ajitpal Singh stopped the ball, Aslam made his move, a precise strike to the goalkeeper’s right. “A difficult shot but my favourite.”Elixir
Aslam’s goal was the elixir Indian hockey deserved. “My goal impacted three nations. It helped India eliminate Malaysia, put us in the final and gave Pakistan nightmares. Pakistan had prayed for Malaysia but we were destined to win,” stressed Aslam.
Ashok was India’s hero. After Surjit Singh got the equaliser to Zahid’s 17th minute goal, the onus was on inside-right Ashok and inside-left Govinda. “We played the hockey of our lives, attacking, falling back to the 25-yard line and launching moves. Pakistan was tough but we played far better that day. I would give lot of credit to Ajitpal, who controlled the game so beautifully, Aslam defended robustly and goalkeeper (Ashok Diwan) made some sensational saves. It was a team effort no doubt,” said Ashok.
Diwan’s response was humble as always. “I never realised my contribution. There was no television those days. Only recently I saw the final (on YouTube) and discovered some of my saves. We were a very good side,” he said. Diwan, however, missed the celebrations. So brilliant was his work under the bar that he was taken away for dope test. “I joined the team in the hotel after two hours and missed the celebrations,” Diwan added.
The heroes of 1975 assemble here on Wednesday. Three members, Mohinder Singh, Surjit Singh and Shivaji Pawar, have since passed away. “It will be a great occasion for us. To relive those glorious days when India ruled the world of hockey,” noted Ajitpal, captain of the team.