| Leslie Claudius |
Only on Wednesday, I went to meet Leslie Claudius… And on Thursday afternoon came the sad news.
Our friendship goes back ages. Yes ages… The first time I met him was in 1957… And since then, he had been my friend, philosopher and guide. Till 1965, we played together.
Just before the London Olympics, when we went to New Delhi for a function where the Indian team were also present, Leslie and I shared the room. His knowledge of the game and eye for details were still perfect. When he spoke about his own experiences it was an eye-opener for the Sardar Singhs. The last from the golden generation talking about hockey…
We stayed together for 20-21 days, in 1959, during the National Hockey Championship, in Secunderabad. I saw him from close then. He used to love to play cards and never shaved during tournaments. He was superstitious…
A versatile player — he used to play as a centre-half for Customs and as a right-half for India and Bengal — Leslie was an inspiration for many budding hockey players like me. His style, his passing, flamboyance, his schemings… What a brilliant player he was!
Agile and wiry, Claudius, although short in stature, had the pace to outrun any big European player. He was blessed with an amazing heart to run for every ball. He used to be present almost everywhere on the pitch. I think his ability to run to cover the man who was going for the ball made him so good with interceptions. Another hallmark of his game was that once he got the ball, he never used to lose it. He was that gutsy.
Legends says the legendary Dhyan Chand, chairman of India’s hockey selection committee for the 1948 London Olympics made a famous comment. “Claudius selects himself, now I have to select the rest of the team.”
He was just 20 at that time!
Of the three gold he won, the one in 1948 was the most significant. India had just won Independence and Olympic was making a return after the 12–year break due to World War II. Leslie and the others played to carve out a niche for a new country. Their medal would mean a lot to the millions back home and Leslie and Co. knew its significance.
The Bilaspur-born Anglo-Indian, along with Balbir Singh Sr, Ranganathan Francis and Randhir Singh Gentle were part of post-Independent Indian hockey team, which dominated the world.
Leslie always rued about the 1960 gold medal miss… He was the captain and India were expected to win the gold again. But Pakistan bucked the trend in Rome. RS Bhola failed to convert his pass and that had cost India dear.
Leslie was shattered when his younger son Robert died in a accident in the late seventies. But he recovered later on.
Leslie used to be a regular at the Beighton Cup. But this time he wasn’t there, as health did not permit him. We waited and waited but he never turned up. He was fighting for his life.
Thursday will remain a sad day for Indian hockey. The last of the Anglo-Indian greats left us… Leaving behind memories of those runs, interceptions and lot more…