The hockey was ruthlessly efficient at the 1964 Olympic Games and there was nearly a seismic world hockey shock on the cards
The lowest-seeded nation at the ’64 Games in Tokyo, Hong Kong were half-way to completing what would have ranked one of the shocks in the world hockey. Having lost to Malaysia, Belgium and Canada, Hong Kong were up against the might of India.
Hong Kong’s passage to the Games came by virtue of being outside the top 16 in the world and securing a berth after France and Poland dropped out. “We were 17 players, almost all of us bankers,” right-half Kader Rahman told Roy Tomizawa, author of 1964, The Greatest Year in the History of Japan.
The team had to pay their airfare to Tokyo and their living accomodation, an all-too-familiar scenario even for today’s global teams.
So to the India game, which amazingly Hong Kong went in half-time at 0-0. Said Tomizawa, “That would be akin to Team USA basketball team being tied 20-20 at the half in an Olympic first rounder against Team Haiti.
As it was, they lost 6-0 and placed 15th of 15th nations in Tokyo. But not before they held Germany to a 1-1 draw, the Europeans scoring via a deflected goal two minutes from time.
Australia to the fore
Australia won bronze, the Kookaburras’ first at an Olympics as the nation began to set the tone of being fit and fast. The Olympic Games book, published in 1976, reviewed the tournament as thus: “Fitness apart, the Australians had a vintage crop of players, including Donald McWatters, a fearsome striker of penalty corner shots, the Pearce brothers Julian and Eric and Paul Dearing.
“The full weight of their onslaught fell upon Great Britain in what was the opening match for both. The result was dramatic and, for Great Britain, disastrous. Australia won 7-0.”
A run of six successive gold medals was halted by Pakistan at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Four years on and the Indian players knew that nothing less than gold would be acceptable n in returning to an expectant nation.
Such was India’s firepower, they had 77 players to choose from for their Olympic trials. Once whittled down, the players ans staff were also free from politics, a harmonious squad which could focus on retaining the title.
In Rome, they took on a more physical approach as rival nations began to make inroads on Asian dominance. India still kept their stick wizardry and after a semi-stuttering start, blitzed through to the semi-finals, beating that in-form Kookaburras team.
The final was never going to be a serene affair. Occasionally brilliant and regularly bad-tempered.
“Relations between the two teams were not very cordial. We were not on talking terms. Against India, Pakistan employed a very rough game,” Harbinder Singh told the Indian Express.
A tight affair saw Mohinder Lal net for India, while goalkeeper and man of the match Shankar Lakshman was inspirational between the posts.
After an energy-sapping 12 days, seven wins and two draws of tournament play, India could celebrate with a bhangra dance as gold was realised.