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‘This award is for hockey'

GAMING GLORY: Zafar Iqbal. Photo: V.V. Krishnan

GAMING GLORY: Zafar Iqbal. Photo: V.V. Krishnan   | Photo Credit: V_V_Krishnan

His game was such a contrast to his personality. A man of few words, he would express himself in such a delightful pattern on the turf, deftly weaving his way in and out, leaving the defenders in a daze and the goalkeeper in utter frustration. The angles he explored, in tandem with some of the finest forwards Indian hockey has seen, made Zafar Iqbal a man to watch.

He could never hurt a fly. But he could destroy the opposition on the hockey field. Starting as inside-left and then moving out to the wing, Zafar shot into fame as a skilful and speedy performer. “I played hockey because I loved hockey. I could have become a footballer, or maybe a cricketer, but I certainly would not have come this far. I am indebted to hockey for giving me such a wonderful life,” says Zafar, who is among the Padma Shri recipients named in this year's Republic Day honours.

Zafar played and then coached; he also commentated on the game and got into administration too. A versatile personality, he combined sports and education to make a mark. His father, Professor Shahabuddin Ahmad, taught Chemistry at Aligarh Muslim University. “He was doing his PhD at Manchester when I was born (in 1956) and always insisted on education. He would allow me to play but only after I had read, read and read. Those were good lessons picked up early in life.”

Zafar is happy because “mother was happy.” As he says, “To me the greatest joy was that I received the news (of the Padma Shri) from my mother (in Aligarh) and she was so thrilled. I am proud that I played hockey. All the recognition that has come my way was possible only because I played hockey.”

But why did he opt for hockey? “It was easy. Hockey was the most popular game and I owed it to Professor Zillur Rehman Khan. He initiated me into hockey and I can never forget him. I was good at flicking the ball from the top of the ‘D' and it helped me to make rapid progress.”

Winning the Olympic gold at Moscow in 1980 was a highpoint in Zafar's career; also the goal that he scored in a Test against Pakistan at Lahore in 1978 with President Zia-ul-Haq among the spectators. “It was my first appearance for India,” recalls Zafar. Eight years later, he took a dignified bow from the game he so dearly loved. It was a Test series, again against Pakistan, and India had won. “It was nice to go on a high.”

The Padma Shri honour , insists Zafar, is “recognition” for the game more than his individual glory. “This award is for hockey. It will mean a lot to the game and help in attracting youngsters to play hockey. India is struggling today because there are no quality players. There are no quality players because the youngsters are not playing hockey.”

Zafar, who is the senior most General Manager in Air India, has a message for the youth. “There is nothing like contributing to the society in whatever form. I worked hard and never had to regret whatever I did because honesty was my tool.” The hockey fraternity would vouch for Padma Shri Zafar Iqbal, a great role model.

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 3:34:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/%E2%80%98This-award-is-for-hockey/article13386238.ece

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