India’s 1980 Moscow Olympics gold is seen as the last hurrah in Indian hockey. Ironically, for a country that has won eight Olympic gold medals, it has been four decades since we scripted a podium finish. India won the gold on June 29, 1980.
Free Press Journal takes you down the memory lane in a chat with the then captain of the side, Vasudevan Baskaran, on the occasion of Olympic Day.
The day before the final, the team manager and coach Balkishen Singh held a team meeting. It was clear from the body language of the players that everyone was nervous and fear loomed large on our faces.
But just before the team entered the field for the title clash against Spain, a cool Balkishen dispelled the tension with his reassuring words, 'Go out there and enjoy the game, forget about the end result.’ This took the pressure off the boys and enabled the team to give off its best. Incidentally, India and Spain shared points in the league phase with a 2-2 draw.
“It was an untested side. But for me and goalkeeper Bir Bahadur Chhetri, the rest of the boys were first timers. But there is no doubt they played like they were used to a big stage like the Olympics, and most importantly, they enjoyed the game. I would say our young side had an unexpected journey to the final,” said the skipper, who was representing the country on the grand stage for the second time. Mohammed Shahid's brilliance was the most important factor in India’s success at the Games, and the young Zafar Iqbal also terrorised the opposition defences, Baskaran revealed.
“Surinder Sodhi, who emerged as the top scorer alongside Shahid, was commanding in the frontline. And Shahid made things look so easy with his crisp passes to his teammates,” the captain recalled.
"Shahid was one such forward who was unstoppable on the field. Once we travelled to Australia and they knew very well that Shahid could not be stopped during his turnings in front of the goal. Australia's Ric Charlesworth tried hard to stop him but couldn't. Because teams put so much focus on him, our other players benefited," Baskaran said of his forward line.
“Secondly, we tweaked the playing pattern, especially the forward line. Shahid, the young prodigy, had an outstanding performance in the earlier game, so we made him play right up as centre forward instead of his usual position at inside-left. Sodhi played as makeshift left-in, and Mervyn Fernandes functioned as the link forward, more as a schemer.
"India led 2-0 at the breather and were up 3-0 soon after the breather. But, a lackadaisical attitude thereafter cost us dearly as the Spaniards hit back twice through Juan Amat (he went on to score a hat-trick). But we finally squeaked through 4-3.
Men of the moment
Vasudevan Baskaran (captain), Bir Bahadur Chhetri, Allen Schofield, Rajinder Singh, Davinder Singh, Sylvanus Dung Dung, Gurmail Singh, Ravinder Pal Singh, M.M. Somaya, Charanjit Kumar, Maharaj Krishan Kaushik, Mervyn Fernandis, Amarjit Singh Rana, Surinder Singh Sodhi, Mohd Shahid, Zafar Iqbal.
How they made it
India defeated Tanzania 18-0
India drew Poland 2-2
India drew Spain 2-2
India defeated Cuba 13-0
India defeated Soviet Union 4-2
India defeated Spain 4-3
India's record at the 1980
Goals For: 43
Goals Against: 9
Hailing from Tamil Nadu, Vasudevan Baskaran captained the Indian team, which won the gold medal in Moscow. He later coached the national team and mentored several junior players.