To take two to three defenders on a ride was child’s play for him

Mohammad Shahid, who lost his battle with a serious ailment on Wednesday, brought joy to millions of hockey fans with his sublime stickwork in a generation gone by. Photo: The Hindu Archives  

Did someone once suggest a scrutiny on the legendary Dhyan Chand’s stick to check if it had magnetic elements to attract the hockey ball? They ought to have dissected Mohammad Shahid’s stick. The ball stayed glued, as did the audience, in a trance, watching this artist weave magic on the hockey turf — natural and later artificial — with the opponents dancing to his tune.

Shahid was the most sought-after merchant for selling hockey to the masses. In a team game, they flocked to the venue to watch just one man… Shahid from Banaras.

He was to hockey what shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan was to the world of music – an intoxicant that transported you to a joyful realm, real and vibrant. India would often lose those days. But not Shahid. His legion of fans only multiplied.

A simple human being

Everyone was a “partner” for Shahid. He was a simple human being. But a complex man to deal with if you happened to play against him. The intricate circles he would build around, with the defenders groping for the ball, meeting with thin air, and chasing Shahid’s shadow.

He would leave you embarrassed with his skills at the left-in position, the most difficult on the hockey turf. Many a right-back shifted to the left to avoid being reduced to mediocre by Shahid.

Strong in basics, he developed the famous flick — half push and half hit where he would find the top of the net from the top of the circle. It was a deadly missile. He was not a phantom who tormented hockey defenders in their dreams. He was real, sometimes leaving them in tears, and sometimes deeply anguished at not even being able to touch the ball, leave aside snatching it from Shahid, who held it close as if by right.

He was a jovial character and a compulsive prankster. He once penned a ‘love-letter’ at a hockey camp to his room-mate Jalalludin Rizvi, who, over the moon after receiving it by post, shared it with the third roomie – Zafar Iqbal. The ‘lady love’ never appeared before Rizvi, who for many years did not discover the author of the letter. Shahid’s lovely handwriting had done the trick. One doubts if Rizvi knows the truth even today.

Trusted saviour

He was the team’s trusted saviour. He was the team. His teammates hovered around him, made the most of his company, especially on the field when he took on the best of opponents and mocked at their tactics to stop him. He played hockey as if it was an individualistic demonstration of one’s prowess and endurance. To take two to three defenders on a ride was child’s play for him.

Once he dribbled past five ferocious German defenders, including the advancing goalkeeper, in a Champions Trophy match and, with an unmanned post in front, selflessly passed the ball for a colleague to score. Anyone could have tapped the ball in. Anyone. Shahid never played for himself.

At the Moscow Olympics, Surinder Singh Sodhi was the highest scorer. But the world saw who set up most of those goals. “All because of Shahid,” was Sodhi’s humble acknowledgement.

Shahid did not score from penalty corners. He created them from nowhere. And at will. Defenders desperately poked and swung their sticks but the ball remained elusive. So did Shahid, flashing past them, his image a mere blur in the horizon. They really dreaded playing Shahid. But he loved them, the first to put an arm around the opponent and share a joke.

Even though he always played with a foreign-made stick, Indian hockey remained close to his heart. Dearer than anything else on this planet.

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2021 6:24:46 AM |

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