BHUBANESWAR : How the mighty fall! When Pakistan’s team, after nearly not making the trip because their federation couldn’t pay for it, marches at the FIH World Cup here, they will be one of the minnows — rank underdogs. Only three teams in the entire tournament —debutants China, South Africa and France — are ranked worse than them. Even the likes of Canada, who haven’t finished higher than tenth in their Olympic history, and Ireland, who’ve finished dead last in each other previous two World Cup appearances, are ranked higher.
But when the team does land in Bhubaneswar, they’ll bring not only their uninspiring present but glimpses of their glorious past. Coaching the young squad will be Tauqeer Dar, a member of the team that won the gold medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. And coming along as a manager will be arguably the greatest player that they have ever produced — Hassan Sardar.
For Sardar too, coming back to India will awaken a sea of memories, for it was here that he had some of the highest points of his career. For a twelve-month period in 1982, Sardar and Pakistan’s hockey team were on top of the world. First they won the World Cup in Mumbai, a tournament that catapulted Sardar to global fame with the then 25-year-old being adjudged best player.
A few months later, they won the Asia Cup at home beating India 4-0 in the final, Sardar again top-scoring for his team. Then came their gold at the New Delhi Asian Games in which they humiliated arch rivals India 7-1 on their own turf in the final. A half-fit Sardar ended up scoring twice in the match. Two years later, he would go on to replicate those heroics as Pakistan won the Olympic gold in Los Angeles, Sardar again finishing on top of the scoring charts.
While the last of those tournaments obviously has a special place in Sardar’s memory, it is the Mumbai World Cup that he looks back at with outmost fondness. “Of course, It was a memorable tournament for me,” he says. “I was lucky to get that. After becoming the player of the tournament, I gained a lot of confidence. It brought maturity to my game.”
Sardar says that the fearsome attack that Pakistan boasted of in those days was the best in the world. The stats back up his argument. In the 1982 World Cup, the green shirts scored an astonishing 38 goals in the seven games they played. The only time they scored less than four goals in the entire tournament was in the final, in which they scored three. And the most potent weapon in their arsenal was Sardar, who scored in every game that Pakistan played in. “We had the best attack in the world at that time. That 7-1 win the Asian Games final was an example of how good our forwards were,” he says. “India actually took the lead in that game, but then we fired in seven goals past them. Whenever we attacked, we scored.”
It is almost unimaginable for a Pakistan team to be cheered on wildly in India these days, but Sardar says that wasn’t the case in the 1982 World Cup. “We never played India in that tournament because they couldn’t qualify for the semifinals,” he says. “So I think we got cheered on a lot because we were the only Asian team left in the tournament. In the final, 80 per cent of the crowd in Mumbai were supporting us. After winning in the final, we went shopping in Mumbai to buy gifts for our mothers and sisters. And many of the shopkeepers just gave things to us for free.”
The two tournaments also gave Sardar the chance to strike up a number of cherished friendships in India. “I met a number of celebrities — Parveen Babi, Smita Patil and Dilip Kumar at the World Cup, Amitabh Bachchan at the Asian Games,” Sardar remembers. “I also met the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Then his mother Indira was PM and he was involved with the Youth Congress. Rajiv became a good friend, he was a very down to earth person. After he became PM, we came to India to play a series and the entire team ended up meeting him at his residence. And then, in 1988, when he visited Pakistan, I went and met him.”
The tournament also saw Sardar strike up friendships with a number of Indian players, who were his most heated rivals on the pitch. “All those who played against us were our friends,” he says. “I had an excellent rapport with the likes of Rajinder Singh, Surjit Singh and Zafar Iqbal. Mohammed Shahid was also a good friend.”