Arguably the greatest player, the game of hockey has ever produced, Dhyan Chand’s genius transcended national boundaries and created myths about his phenomenal abilities. Winning three gold medals in Olympic games, he is undoubtedly, the best hockey player, India has ever produced.
He was born in a Rajput family on August 29,1905 in Prayag in Uttar Pradesh. His father was an army subedar. After an early education, he joined the Indian army at the age of 16, in 1922. He was a sepoy of the 14 Punjab Regiment. Subedar-Major Bhole Tiwari of Brahmin Regiment noticed his excellent dribbling skills and knack for scoring goals.
His exceptional abilities were proved in a match in 1927 when he exhibited his skills against the English hockey team, netting 36 of India’s 72 goals in 10 matches, at the London Folkstone Festival. In 1928, Dhyan Chand was selected to represent the Indian hockey team in the 1928 Summer Olympics in Netherlands. He helped India win the gold medal and winning the finals against the Netherlands by a score of 3-0. In the 1932 Summer Olympics held at Los Angeles, USA, the team defended their tide, winning the gold. The team routed the US hockey team 24-1, a record that exists till today. During 1935 tour of New Zealand and Australia, he scored 201 goals out of the team’s tally of 584 in 43 matches. Don Bradman, the legendary cricketer and Dhyan Chand once came face to face at Adelaide in 1935, when the Indian hockey team was in Australia. After watching, Dhyam Chand in action, Don Bradman remarked, “He scores goals like runs in cricket”.
The 1936 Summer Olympics final at Berlin in Germany proved his love for the country and audacious jugglery and leadership qualities. Initially, Chand was refused permission to go at the Olympics. However, later he captained the hockey team. In a patriotic note, the team raised the Indian tricolour in the dressing room and sang ‘Vande Mataram’, rather than the British national anthem, which they were obliged to sing. The Indians were leading by 1- 0 at the half time. In the second half, they scored 7 goals. After trailing 0 – 6, the Germans are reported to have resorted to body play. In a clash with the German goalkeeper, Chand broke one of his teeth, but was soon back in action. India won the match by 8-1, with Dhyan Chand scoring 6 goals. Impressed by his performance, Adolf Hitler, supposedly, offered to make Dhyan Chand a Field Marshal in the German army but the latter refused. After World War II, he continued to play till the age of 42. After his retirement, Dhyan Chand earned a diploma in coaching from the National Institute of Sports in Patiala, Punjab. Residents of Vienna, Austria, honoured him by setting up his statue with four hands and four sticks, depicting his control and mastery over the ball.
In 1956, at the age of 51, he retired from the army with the rank of Major. The Government of India honoured him that year by conferring on him the Padma Bhushan (India’s third highest civilian honour).
Chand, however, died penniless and uncared for in a hospital, receiving a meagre pension. He was very sad to see India finish seventh at the MontrealOlympics, 1976. When he was at the deathbed at AIIMS, he reportedly told a doctor that Indian hockey was dying. He then went into a coma and died in 1979. Ayear after his death, the Indian Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in his honour. In addition, Dhyan Chand National Stadium in New Delhi is named after him. His birthday, 29 August, is celebrated as National Sports Day in India. The President gives away sports-related awards such as Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, Arjuna Award and Dronacharya Award this day at Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Such was Chand’s virtuosity that people actually refused to believe their naked eyes. They broke his stick in the Netherland to check if there was a magnet inside and in Japan, they decided it was glue! Truly, his wizardry with the hockey stick has known no competitors till now.