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SAF Games Hockey: 21 years and 2 months ago (2/8/2016)
--K. Arumugam
As India takes on Pakistan today in Guwahati, I cannot but reminisce what transpired 21 years and two months ago: infact everything good happened. Pargat Singh led and Cedric D’Souza trained India, then known for boring defensive strategy, came out of the chrysalis for once and went for goals spree, took five goal lead, which it maintained till five minutes before the hooter to enthral capacity crowd of Chennai ‘s newly built Mayor Radhakrishnan stadium, to defeat reigning World Cup champions Pakistan 5-2 to win the first ever South Asian Federation Games hockey gold.

undefined Pakistan then were having legends such as Shahbaz Ahmad Sr. -- now Secretary General of Pakistan Hockey Federation – Shahaz Ahmad Jr, Tahir Zaman, Kamran Ashraf, Mansoor Ahmad (goalie) and in its side, and were also World Cup Champions.

It was just a year for KPS Gill who has taken over the Indian Hockey Federation on popular demand, and the SAF games gold was the icing on the cake for him, for, the year 1995 saw Indian hockey winning many titles from Indira Cup in January to SAF Games in December with interregnum gold at Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Kuala Lumpur.

1995 in many ways was memorable year for Indian hockey.

Coming back to SAF Games, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh were in the fray besides India and Pakistan.

The tournament was played on round robin basis, but everyone knew it’s the last match between the foes India and Pakistan will decide the goad, and it was.

Pakistan defeated Bangladesh 3-2, Sri Lanka 12-0, Nepal 22-0 before succumbing to India in the pressure cooker atmosphere.

However, India started badly just defeating Sri Lanka 2-0 with goals each from Mukesh Kumar and Dhanraj Pillay. Sri Lankan team was trained by Chennai’s Jayasekaran, elder brother of Vasudevan Baskaran.

India managed a good show against Bangladesh 7-0 which included four penalty corner conversions. India’s win over Nepal 16-0, which scored only a goal in the entire tournament.

There was a rage going on outside the newly built stadium before the Pak match. All tickets were sold out. Double the crowd waited outside. Atmosphere was terrific and the home team stood to the task. Cedric D’Souza’s team, known for rigid, boring, dull backpasses ridden defensive game was not there, instead free flow one.

The forward line of Dhanraj Pillay, Sanjeev Kumar and Mukesh Kumar was in fantastic form, with good help coming from midfield maestro Harpreet Singh, Mohd Riaz and Sandeep Somesh. Pargat Singh and Anil Aldrin manned the defence with Dilip Tirkey on the bench.

Dhanraj Pillay, already a hero in this part of the world, struck the first goal in the 17th minute, right winger Mukesh Kumar followed it up within next two minutes. Dhanraj Pillay again struck after lemon time, not once, but twice. Mukesh Kumar, who was the hero on that day, added another one.

Pakistan came out with two goals in the last five minutes, but it made no difference to the crowd who were already dancing to ‘Silk Smitha’ numbers.

Today India takes on Pakistan, but the latter is no World Cup Champions, but not even qualifying for it. India also slipped many ladders with many defeats on the international for a since then.

Their feat may not create a hype now, but it was true it was so once.

This writer has seen both the highs and will always long for the same.

SAF Games gold winning Indian Team: Pargat Singh, Anil Aldrin, Dilip Tirkey, Sandeep Somesh, Baljit Singh Saini, Baljit Singh Dhillon, Sanjeev Kumar, Edgar Mascarenhas Jr, AB Subbaiah, Mukesh Kumar, Dhanraj Pillay, Dilip Tirkey, Md. Riaz, Ramandeep Singh, Hasrat Qureshi, Sarabhjit Singh Sr. Coach: Cedric D'Souza, Asst Coaches: Mercellous Gomes & Divnain Singh, Manager: P. Krishnamurthy.

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