Sunday, 4 June 2017

Dhyan Chand : The Hockey Wizard

Dhyan Chand with the ball vs. France in the 1936 Olympic semi-finals

Dhyan Chand (29 August 1905 – 3 December 1979) was an Indian hockey player, widely regarded as one of the greatest field hockey players of all time. He is remembered for his goal scoring feats and for his three Olympic gold medals (1928, 1932, and 1936), during an era where India was the most dominant team in Hockey.

A legend is born
Dhyan Chand
Dhyan Chand was born as Dhyan Singh, in Allahabad, United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh). He was born to mother Sharadha Singh and father Sameshwar Dutt Singh. His father was in the British Indian Army, where he played hockey. Dhyan Chand had two brothers – Mool Singh and Roop Singh. His elder brother, Mool Singh, was a Hawaldar and younger brother, Roop Singh was also hockey player.

It is said that because of his father's numerous army transfers, the family had to move to different cities and as such Dhyan Singh had to terminate his education after only six years of schooling. The family finally settled in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, India. Being in the military, his father got a small piece of land for a house.

Dhyan Singh became Dhyan Chand
Dhyan Singh stated that had no serious inclination towards sports, though he loved wrestling. He stated that he did not remember whether he played any hockey worth mentioning before he joined the Army. He joined the Indian Army at the age of 16. Since Dhyan Singh used to practice a lot during night after his duty hours, he waited for the moon to come out so that the visibility (during his era there were no flood lights) improved. Hence he was called ’Chand’ (Hindi word for moon) by his fellow players.

Dhyan Chand was married to Janaki Devi just before the 1936 Olympics. They had seven sons. They were based in Jhansi.

Barefoot Dhyan Chand
In the 1936 Berlin Olympic hockey victory against Germany, the legendary Dhyan Chand had played without shoes in the second half of the match on the advice of Sayajirao Gaekwad III. The team, as a result, won its third Olympic gold after scoring seven goals in the second half. The loss in the finals left Adolf Hitler red-faced.

Dr Damodar Nene, the biographer of Sayajirao, recounts how the Indian players in Berlin were very nervous in the finals against Germany as the host team had beaten them convincingly during a practice match earlier. Sayajirao used to be a special invitee to the Olympics. “When the final match started, Dhyan Chand and other players seemed out of sorts and managed to score just one goal in the first half,” says Nene. “Sayajirao, who was watching the game, was surprised by the Indian team’s performance.”

It was then that Vasantrao Kaptan, who was accompanying the king, requested Sayajirao to speak to the players as they needed a confidence boost. Sayajirao met Dhyan Chand and his team why they were not playing to their potential. “Dhyan Chand said that he had habit of playing barefoot and that he was finding it difficult to play with shoes,” Nene says. “Sayajirao told Dhyan Chand to remove his shoes for the final half. He also had a brief but inspirational chat with other players. He told the team that they must win as there was a big prize awaiting them.”

Dhyan Chand played barefoot in the second half and scored three goals. Legend has it that the Adolf Hitler was so impressed by Dhyan Chand's wizardry with the stick that he offered the Indian a chance to move to Germany and the post of Colonel in his army, which the hockey legend is said to have declined with a smile.

The Hockey Wizard
In India he is often referred to as 'Hockey ka Jaadugar' with translates to "Magician of the game of Hockey". It is also rumored Chand used to practice ball control by sprinting along the length of railway tracks while balancing the ball on the track rail.

He was known as 'The Wizard', for his superb ball control.  29 August, Dhyan Chand's birthday, is celebrated as National Sports Day in India. In 1951, Captain Dhyan Chand was honored at the National Stadium with Dhyan Chand tournament. In 1956, at the age of 51, he retired from the army with the rank of Major. Same year, the Government of India honored him by conferring the Padma Bhushan.

After retirement, he taught at coaching camps at Mount Abu, Rajasthan. Later, he accepted the position of Chief Hockey Coach at the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, a post he held for several years. Chand spent his last days in his hometown of Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, India. Dhyan Chand died on 3 December 1979 at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi.

Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in Delhi
Postage stamp of Dhyan Chand

Other interesting facts about the legend :
  • The 20th National Award 2012, 'the Gem of India' was awarded to Dhyan Chand by the Union Minister of India. The award was received by Dhyan Chand’s son, Ashok Dhyan.
  • Chand (a hockey Olympian) on behalf of his deceased father.
  • India's highest award for lifetime achievement in sports is the 'Dhyan Chand Award' which has been awarded annually from 2002 to sport personalities.
  • The National Stadium, Delhi was renamed Dhyan Chand National Stadium in 2002 in his honour.
  • Dhyan Chand scored over 400 goals in his career, from 1926 to 1948.
  • Dhyan Chand is the only Indian hockey player to have a stamp in his honour. Government of India has issued a commemorative postage stamp and a First Day Cover on December 4, 1980.
  • A hostel at Aligarh Muslim University of which he was an alumnus, has been named after him.
  • After India played its first match in the 1936 Olympics, Dhyan Chand's magical stickwork drew crowds from other venues to the hockey field. A German newspaper carried a banner headline: 'The Olympic complex now has a magic show too.' The next day, there were posters all over Berlin: Visit the hockey stadium to watch the Indian magician Dhyan Chand in action
  • Once, while playing a hockey game, Major Dhyan Chand was not able to score a goal against the opposition team. After several misses, he argued with the match referee regarding the measurement of the goal post, and amazingly, it was found to not be in conformation with the official width of a goal post under international rules
  • Australian cricket legend Don Bradman and Dhyan Chand once came face to face at Adelaide in 1935, when the Indian hockey team was in Australia. After watching Dhyan Chand in action, Bradman remarked "He scores goals like runs in cricket"
  • In the Netherlands, the authorities broke his hockey stick to check if there was a magnet inside.

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