India has a remarkable history in hockey, being unbeatable was something it maintained since 1928. But the tale of India against Pakistan in Melbourne, 1956, was something worth remembering.
The national men’s team remained undefeated in 1928, 1932, 1936. When the world was recovering from the devastation of World War II in 1948, team India was gearing up for another win in the year itself, followed by another victory in 1952 and then in Melbourne in 1956.
Though India was now playing as an independent nation, the match the next day, December 6, 1956, appeared to be more difficult than before. They were about to face Pakistan.
Hopes were sky-high, so was speculation. Little did they know this is going to be the emergence of the acclaimed India-Pakistan strife.
An independent nation, India, was about to face for the first time another independent nation which had had to be an integral part of it. With no further question pointed, this was a heart-touching occasion for the nations and the players can sense that in the air.
Captain Balbir Singh Sr revealed in his memoirs that he found it difficult to sleep the previous night before the match. But neither he nor other players could step back. In the tournament, Singh got himself hurt at the very first match thus he was unable to participate in the finals because of incomplete recovery.
Nevertheless, he was made to run to the podium on the insistence of the head coach Harbail Singh, which per him would give a strong message to rivals.
“He told me that even if I wasn’t able to play my best hockey, my reputation was such that the opponent would use two players to mark me and it would free up space for my other forwards,” shared Balbir.
“My injury was kept a secret from the opposition and that I didn’t shake hands with anyone. Just waved. I took pain-killing injections at the start of the game and at halftime and managed to play,” he added further.
It was the deciding day. Match began, both teams giving a tough competition to the opponents. None could secure a single goal for the first half. Little did they know India was about to take the lead in the second half.
Just a few minutes passed in the second half, team India earned a penalty corner which was pushed by Udham Singh. Raghubir Lal trapped the ball perfectly for Randhir Singh Gentle, who swept his shot into the Pakistan goal, past the last defender.
Even though Shankar Laxman was playing his maiden Olympics, he performed outstandingly and kept Pakistan at bay, foiling many attempts at his goal.
Yay, India made it to the medal and won the sixth consecutive Olympic Gold.
Besides, India scored an Olympic record of 38 goals in five matches, a count that remains unbroken to date. Forward Udham Singh finished with 15 goals, the maximum number of goals in an Olympic campaign.