What Sachin Tendulkar is to cricket, Dhyan Chand is to hockey. He was the player who earned three consecutive Olympic golds for Indian field hockey. In fact, he is one of the greatest hockey players the world has known. No wonder his birthday, August 29, is celebrated as National Sports Day.
There are many legends about his extraordinary dribbling skills. One such tells of sport officials in the Netherlands breaking his hockey stick to check if a magnet was hidden inside. Such was his felicity with goals!
The hockey sticks of yore were made of a single piece of wood and so the blades were not curved as it is now. Dribbling with that spelt great skill and Dhyan mastered it. He scored 400 goals in his international career. He was called the Wizard of Hockey.
Dhyan was born on August 29, 1905, in Allahabad, in a Rajput family. His brother Roop Singh was also a stellar player and found place in the Olympic team. Like his father, he too joined the British Indian army. Dhyan Singh came to be called Dhyan Chand as he was wont to play after duty hours, when the moon was out.
In the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, the Indian team found itself in the division A table, with Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Switzerland. On May 17, the Indian national hockey team made its Olympic debut against Austria, winning 6–0, with Chand scoring 3 goals. The final match on May 26, had India facing the home team. The Indian team’s better players — Feroze Khan, Ali Shaukat and Kher Singh were on the sick list. Chand himself was ill. However, India managed to defeat the hosts 3–0 and win the country’s first Olympic gold. Chand was the top scorer, with 14 goals in five matches. A newspaper report about India’s triumph said: “This is not a game of hockey, but magic. Dhyan Chand is in fact the magician of hockey.”
On returning to India, the team was received by fans at the Bombay harbour; a contrast to three people who had seen them off. Chand was the star player of the Indian team in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics and in the1936 Berlin Olympics too, where he removed his spiked shoes and played barefoot in the second half of the final against Germany. India won 8-1. In the three back to back Olympics, Chand had scored 33 goals in 12 matches.
The national hockey stadium in New Delhi is named after him. The government conferred on him Padma Bhushan. Years later, a stamp bearing his image and name was released — the only hockey player to enjoy the privilege.
When he was 51, he retired from the army with the rank of Major. He coached for a while, then settled in his favourite town — Jhansi. His last days were not happy, as he was cash-strapped and was largely ignored by the sports fraternity and the nation. Once he went to a tournament in Ahmedabad and was turned away as they did not know who he was.
He suffered from liver cancer, and was admitted in a general ward at the AIIMS, New Delhi. He died at the age of 74 on December 3,1979.