The inconsistency in team performance, the politics attached to sports these days and the warring Olympians cannot even put a tiny dent on the treasure trove of memories that many of our sporting heroes carry with them. Pakistan’s national sport, hockey, was something that once lifted the nation’s head with pride. There was a time when we had all the honours in field hockey. The Pakistan hockey team has over the years won four World Cups, three Olympic gold medals, an equal number of Champions Trophy titles and Asia Cups along with eight Asian Games gold medals.
Speaking of our days of glory, Olympian Hasan Sardar, the best centre-forward ever produced by the country, remembers 1982, one year when Pakistan featured in as many as three big hockey tournaments — the World Cup in Mumbai, India (December 28, 1981 to January 12, 1982), the first edition of the Asia Cup in Karachi, Pakistan (March 12 to 20, 1982) and the Asian Games in New Delhi, India (November 19 to December 4, 1982). Pakistan came out the champion in all these events.
“I was the top scorer in all three. The first one, the mega Hockey World Cup, saw me scoring 12 goals in all, and still it left something to be desired. We got gold of course, but the groups and draws of the event were such that we, who were placed in Group ‘A’, returned without having faced India, who were in Group ‘B’, in the entire tournament. Pakistan progressed to the semi-final where we beat Holland 4-2 to reach the final where we beat Germany 3-1 to be crowned world champions,” he shares.
“We landed in Karachi after the World Cup to a hearty welcome from our fans as well as the Pakistan Hockey Federation officials at the airport. From there we were taken to the Quaid-i-Azam’s mausoleum in a huge procession with people even running on both sides of our vehicles. I will never forget those times,” remembers Hasan with a glint in his eyes.
The next big event that Pakistan featured in that year was the first Asia Cup at the Hockey Club of Pakistan in Karachi in March.
“That event quenched our thirst to an extent as we beat India 4-0 in the final to lift the cup,” says Hasan Sardar. “Still we wanted to beat them on their own soil,” he adds.
About the atmosphere of the city and especially the Hockey Club of Pakistan during the time, he tells, “Our constant victories and success in hockey at the international level had made the sport so popular that the stadium would always be full during matches. In fact, it would be so jam-packed that there would be as many people outside trying to get in as there were inside.
And unlike today when the entry is free, those people bought tickets, even in black, to watch the matches that were being telecast live on TV anyway.”
About the Asia Cup Hasan says that he scored the most beautiful goal in his entire career during its final. “I dodged five Indian defenders to score that goal,” he beams.
Finally, it was in November that Pakistan played in its last big event of the year — the Asian Games in New Delhi, India.
“Having bagged two gold medals the same year, we were a very confident side, but then so were our hosts India. They also had the advantage of playing on their home turf,” Hasan points out.
“In fact,” he adds, “Rajiv Gandhi, who was the chief organiser of the Asiad in 1982, often dropped in at the Athlete’s Village with wife Sonia Gandhi and friend Amitabh Bachchan. They were all very friendly and extremely nice to us, but they would also always tell us to brace ourselves as they thought that we would eventually succumb to crowd pressure and lose when playing against India. We could see that they were just not prepared for defeat, but then neither were we.”
He continues, “Unfortunately, I injured my hamstring during the tournament. We reached the semi-finals and so did India.
They played in the first semi-final and beating Japan by 7-2 reached the final ahead of us. That was when our coach, Khalid Mahmood, and captain, Samiullah, decided to rest me for the second semi-final against Malaysia as they wanted me to be in better shape for the final against India, if we made it that far.”
Pakistan, too, reached the final after beating Malaysia by 2-0. Perhaps the Indian players weren’t prepared for the kind of strategy used by Pakistan in the final. “Sporting a bandage on my leg and not being 100 per cent fit, I tried to stay behind a little on the field and create opportunities for the rest of our forward line,” Hasan explains.
The Indian fullbacks so used to covering Pakistan’s main centre-forward, Hasan, in order to stop him from scoring goals got a little confused when Hasan instead of breaking their defence gave passes to Manzoor Junior, Hanif Khan and Kaleemullah, all of whom scored.
“I remember that the final was also being watched by Mrs Indira Gandhi, India’s Prime Minister at the time,” Hasan says.
“When the score line was 5-1 in Pakistan’s favour, the prime minister decided not to stay for further humiliation and walked off in a huff!
“Despite slowing down, even I was able to score two goals and we thrashed India by 7-1 in the final,” he laughs.
“We got a hero’s welcome once again, in Lahore where we landed from New Delhi wearing our gold medals. Again we were taken inside the city in the form of a procession, this time to Data Darbar. Later, we toured the entire country to be cheered by huge crowds in Faisalabad and Sialkot, too, besides Lahore and Karachi,” he says.
“The nation wanted to meet its heroes and the love and good wishes showered upon us by our people was great for our morale,” he states.
“It is so sad to see the team, with such a glorious past, struggling now. I know Pakistanis are still interested in the sport. Our stadiums are empty just because they are so disheartened by our current state that they don’t want to get too involved in the game and end up heartbroken in the end,” the yesteryear great concludes with a sigh