Ashok Kumar is keenly following every step of the Indian hockey team’s Asia Cup campaign in Ipoh, Malaysia from his Bhopal residence.

This is the team’s final attempt at earning a direct qualification for next year’s World Cup. And despite India’s goal-barrage this far -- 8-0 vs Oman, 2-0 vs Korea and 9-1 vs Bangladesh, Kumar, son of the wizard of Indian hockey, Dhyan Chand (born 1905), remains unimpressed.

“It’s one thing to rule world and Olympic hockey, and quite another to be struggling to qualify for these tournaments,” Kumar told MiD DAY on the eve of his father’s 108th birth anniversary -- celebrated each year as India’s National Sports Day.

Four-time World Cupper Kumar’s angst maybe justified, considering he comes from an era where Indian hockey was dominant.

India were Olympic champions for six times on the trot between 1928 and 1956. Thrice (Amsterdam 1928, Los Angeles 1932 and Berlin 1936) Kumar’s father was the architect of this historic feat. And in 1975, Kumar scored the winner in the World Cup final against Pakistan in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) to win India its only World Cup yet.

Kumar shuddered to think about his father’s state of mind had he been living to see India’s drop in standards.

“India’s failure to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics for the first time in 84 years was a very painful moment. Then, we finished last at the London Games. And now we are struggling to qualify for the World Cup, something that has never happened before. I remember my father was very upset with me when we finished sixth at the 1972 Munich Olympics,” he said.

“So, I can’t even imagine how hurt and disappointed he’d be with the current state of Indian hockey,” said Kumar.

Experts believe Indian hockey’s downslide began when international authorities decided to switch from playing the game on natural grass to the synthetic astro-turf in the late 1970s. But Kumar believed otherwise.

“Way back in the 1950s, Babuji (Dhyan Chand) had predicted that European teams will look to end India’s domination in hockey, and try every trick in the book to enforce this. In press interviews, he had said that since Europeans struggle to play on grass, we should not be surprised if they change the surface of play. The Indian hockey system then was laid back, rested on its laurels and took things for granted,” rued the 63-year-old double Olympian.

All’s not lost however, felt Kumar. “Babuji always said that to restore Indian hockey’s legacy, we have to look to youth. It’s great to see the nation celebrating his birthday, but it would be nicer if we can work towards improving our junior hockey. These youngsters will restore India’s lost pride in world hockey, and that for me, will be the ideal birthday gift to my father. His face always lit up when one spoke about hockey, even in the latter stages of his life when he was ill in hospital. But today, I’m sure if we can restore even a part of our past hockey glory, Babuji will smile upon us from up there,” Kumar concluded.

Dhyan Chand’s 1936 Berlin Games hockey stick is well preserved in London: Ashok

Such was Dhyan Chand’s humility that when a German female fan asked him for his hockey stick -- with which he had just scored six of the eight goals against the host nation in the 1936 Berlin games’ hockey final -- he simply handed it over. No questions asked. “I always wondered what that stick would be worth today… it’s priceless,” said Ashok Kumar, Dhyan Chand’s son, who thought he would never be able to see his army officer father’s ‘weapon’ ever again. But to his pleasant surprise, fate had other ideas.

“Last year when I went with a government delegation for the London Olympics, a lady contacted me saying she had my father’s 1936 Berlin Olympic hockey stick. I was stunned. She met me in London and took me to the Indian Gymkhana Club where the hockey stadium is named after Babuji. There I saw my father’s Berlin Games hockey stick preserved in a glass case. The three signatures of my father, Ahmed Sher Khan and Roop Singh are still visible on the stick,” added Kumar.

Now, read about Dhyan Chand!

Diehard sports fans will be thrilled to learn that when India’s iconic storytelling house, Amar Chitra Katha decided to dedicate a title to a sports legend, they chose champion hockey wizard, Dhyan Chand. With a lucid storyboard by another legend in the storytelling business, Luis Fernandes, the chronicle begins with the 16-year-old being drafted into the First Brahmans Regiment in Delhi and signs off in style, after the Indian hockey team’s 1936 Berlin Games gold win.

The art team brilliantly carries the story forward with an easy palette to engage the reader -- child or adult.

This title is an insightful read about Indian hockey’s biggest name, set in comic book format -- a perfect addition to the all-time sporting great collection.

Courtesy: Mid Day

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