Ashok Kumar returned to India with a hockey gold medal from the 1975 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur. A team title of the highest class and worthy of national celebration, as it unfolded. As a different India prepares to applaud the men’s badminton squad, coming home with the Thomas Cup 2022 from Bangkok, the qualities which moulded players from ’75 squad into a winning unit remains unchanged in ’22, points out the hockey ace.
Playing inside forward for India, captained by midfield general Ajitpal Singh, Ashok scored the winning goal in a 2-1 win against Pakistan as the hockey heroes came back with the nation’s first-ever FIH World Cup. “Each player should be in a frame of mind to give everything he has. It comes from preparation, own individual training after team sessions, practising till the move becomes instinctive.”
India humbled defending champion Indonesia in a best-of-five ties final, winning 3-0. Lakshya Sen and Kidambi Srikanth (two singles), Chirag Shetty-Satwiksairaj Ramireddy (doubles) delivered timely displays. Each player’s ferocity, finesse left the Indonesians stunned. “You must have the skill to catch a rival off-guard and the awareness to execute it at the right moment. It is risky, the team gets an advantage when you show the confidence to pull it off.”
He added: “Winning a world team final like the Thomas Cup cannot happen without taking opponents by surprise in competition.” When the hockey heroes landed in Chennai, felicitations and public receptions followed. Players were taken out in jeep processions. “We played to win titles, nothing else mattered for hockey fans. When teams returned with a medal other than the gold, the abuse would start at the airport.”
Winning the World Cup hence was a mixture of joy and relief, having performed to public expectations in a country where hockey was the number one sport in 1975. India beat Asian rival Pakistan in the final, home side Malaysia went down to India in the semis “Beating countries where badminton is a craze (Indonesia, Denmark) is great, the expectations will start soon and future teams need to prepare for the increased expectations. This is the time to celebrate for the current squad,” said Ashok.
For any team to succeed, each player chosen for the final match should be willing to sacrifice personal glory for the cause of the whole group. Ashok felt this feeling was visible in the shuttlers group. “I am sure these players will represent India for more years and play bigger tournaments. When playing as individuals, the mood is different and during a team event, national interest should come before personal achievement. Indian hockey teams tasted success when players were ready to go all out for a common cause.”
The example was set by seniors Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy at the Thomas Cup, observed by three-time hockey Olympian, Mervyn Fernandes.
“Srikanth won the second singles against Indonesia, showing the temperament which comes with experience on the circuit. Prannoy came on for the third singles, under pressure in the decider (Malaysia in quarters, Denmark in semis). He did not show the slightest sign of tiredness, which I felt was an amazing contribution to the team cause.”
Fernandes is a badminton regular from hockey days, plays veterans doubles on the tennis circuit post-retirement. “I have been watching Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj (Rankireddy) since the Tokyo Olympics where I felt they were unlucky to miss out on a chance to qualify for the medal round. Young, fearless and complimenting each other, this doubles pair will go a long way. The best aspect about their Thomas Cup display was each one boosting his partner, even when mistakes happened. For youngsters watching any racquet sport, this is a quality by a young doubles pair which should be observed and followed.”
Prannoy’s willingness to fight till the last point in the decider kept India going, Fernandes praised Lakshya Sen from coming good when it mattered. “He has been in form prior to the Thomas Cup, so the struggle till the final against Indonesia was puzzling. His victory in the first singles set the tone for the rest of the title clash, I felt.” The hockey Olympian watched every match on television from the quarters onwards. “The Thomas Cup victory is right up there with India’s major success in an international team sport. As far as hockey is concerned, the World Cup 1975 can be in that bracket.”
He hoped the Badminton Association of India (BAI) would take advantage of this incredible win to attract more youngsters to take up the sport. “The hockey World Cuppers were taken across India and honoured.
Cricket attracted numbers after the World Cup 1983 triumph. We have a bunch of amazing players who deserve the applause and incentives, committed seniors and exciting youngsters. The team coaches and support staff deserve appreciation.”