There are many sticks in The Hockey Museum, many as old or even older than the one pictured but, with the passage of time, it has no knowledge of who owned them or where they were used. A stick from the first ever international match would be amazing but to be of any historical interest it would have to have provenance.
Provenance is what makes this stick extremely important. It belonged to, and was used by, Captain HV Cox, an English Officer in the Indian Army, who toured New Zealand with the Indian Army hockey team in 1926. They played three matches against New Zealand, ending with a win, a draw and a loss.
Subsequently these matches were deemed to be India’s first international matches and they are included in New Zealand’s all-time list of test matches. So this stick is a tangible link to India’s entry into world hockey.
The Indian Army team also played a lot of matches against club and regional sides which accounts for their goals tally of 390 for, as recorded on the stick.
The match in which this hockey stick was used on Saturday 26th June 1926 was probably the most important hockey match at that time. Not only was it India’s first international match; it was also New Zealand’s fourth ever international, the other three all being against Australia.
Indeed, by 1937, eleven years on, New Zealand had played only 15 matches, nine against Australia and six against India, as they toured again in 1935. This shows how difficult and arduous international travel was in the first half of the 20th century with sea travel being the only real option.
The 1926 game was watched by a crowd of over 12,000 which must have been the highest attendance for a hockey match up to that date. Special trains were arranged, just for this match.
The Indian Army party was composed of four English officers, one Sikh officer and twelve Indian soldiers. With the match subsequently accepted as India’s first international it is a quirk of history that the four Englishmen became international players, albeit for India.
Much more significantly, from an historical perspective, was that the centre forward for India was a young Sepoy (Indian soldier) Dyan Chand of the 4/1 Punjab Regiment, who went on to become possibly the most legendary hockey player ever.
Just two years after this inaugural international match India went on to play in the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam at which they won the gold medal. This started the sequence of six consecutive Olympic titles for India, an Olympic record in any sport. It raised India to the position of ‘super power’ in world hockey, an aura that has remained with them to this day.