New Delhi: When Ashok Kumar returned from Kuala Lumpur in June 1975, after scoring the winning goal in the World Cup final against Pakistan, it took him a couple of hours to come out of the Delhi airport and get into the waiting bus.
“There was a huge crowd at the airport to greet the victorious team, including a host of people from the hockey fraternity,” said Ashok, son of the legendary Dhyan Chand.
“The only person I could not spot was my father. I could only meet him when I returned to Jhansi. He patted my back and simply said well done, but the World Cup should now be a thing of the past for you. Better start preparing for the future,” recalled Ashok on Wednesday, when Hockey India (HI) felicitated the members of the 1975 squad and presented them with a cheque of Rs. 1.75 lakh each.
The widows of Surjit Singh and Shivaji Pawar and brother of Mohinder Singh received the cheques on their behalf. While everyone present in the function felt Dhyan Chand was right to suggest it was time to look ahead, they also agreed that the standard of Indian hockey had steadily deteriorated since 1975.
Never after the historic Kuala Lumpur triumph could India reach the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Terry Walsh, the chief coach of the Indian team, who announced the squad for World Cup here on Wednesday, said it was time to look at things from a practical angle. The tournament begins on May 31 in the Hague.
India leave for the World Cup on May 21. They are placed in a tough Pool A alongside Australia, Belgium, England, Spain and Malaysia.
“Our aim would be to finish among top eight… at best within the top six. That would be a big step forward for our team,” he said.
Walsh said fans want to see India finish among top three, but that’s impossible. “That’s simply not possible. The last time India won the cup was 39 years ago. I was one of the young Australian players, who watched the final from the stands. It is difficult to repeat that feat.”
The Australian coach, however, promised that his boys would do their best in every match.
“I can assure you our performance would be lot better that what you saw in the Hockey World League finals.
“At the same time, I am a bit nervous about our first opponents, Belgium. They are the most improved side in Europe and we play them on the opening day. That would be a crucial match,” he said.
The 18-member squad led by Sardar Singh would see the return of experienced midfielder Gurbaj Singh, while striker Yuvraj Walmiki and forward Danish Mujtaba have been dropped. Jasjit Singh is the only uncapped player in the team.
Sardar asked the 1975 team members to bless his boys and said he was hugely motivated by their presence. “We would like to emulate your feat,” he said.
The 1975 stars who were present at the felicitation: Ajit Pal Singh (captain), Leslie Fernandes, Ashok Dewan, Michael Kindo, Aslam Sher Khan, Virender Singh, Onkar Singh, VJ Phillips, Harcharan Singh, Ashok Kumar, BP Govinda, HJS Chimni and PE Kailath.