What King Pele is to Soccer, Donald Bradman to Cricket, Dhyan Chand is to Field Hockey. However, no one ever broke Bradman’s bat or Pele’s leg to see if there was any spring hidden inside them. Legend has it that so wonderful was Dhyan Chand’s dribbling and ball control that during an international match, his hockey stick was broken to see whether there was anything inside the stick that attracted the ball like a magnet. Such has been the versatility of Dhyan Chand’s stick work.
In 2014, names of two players were recommended for India’s highest civilian honour; the Bharat Ratna. However, it was a rare occasion when the immortal Major Dhyan Chand ended as a loser. In fact, the irony remains that our hero did not even get the honour of receiving the second highest civilian award of the country. However, there is one honour which shall continue to be exclusive to Dhyan Chand among all sports personalities and, that is, that his birthday continues to be commemorated as the National Sports Day.
Dhyan Chand was born to Sameshwar Dutt Singh and Shradha Singh, at the historical city of Allahabad, on 29 August 1905. Among his two younger brothers, Roop Singh and Mool Singh, the former also went on to be a great hockey player whose glory as a player would have been the greatest but for the presence of his elder sibling.
One may be left wondering as to how Dhyan Chand came to be known so while everyone in the family carried the family name ‘Singh’. There are two stories in support of the title of ‘Chand’ carried by Dhyan Chand. The less supported story is that while in the Army, he used to practise his hockey skills after duty hours under the moonlight and ‘Chand’ being the Hindi word for ‘Moon’, people started calling him Dhyan Chand instead of Dhyan Singh. The other and more digestible story is that Dhyan Chand’s coach saw the innate talent in Dhyan’s hockey and made a prophecy that one day he would shine like the Moon. Consequently, he started calling the youngster as Dhyan Chand and that name stuck to him forever.
At the age of seventeen, Dhyan Chand followed his father’s footsteps and joined the British Indian Army, in 1922. Prior to joining the Army, Dhyan Chand had hardly any credentials to back his hockey talent but soon his talent was in the limelight. Dhyan Chand was a member of the Indian Army hockey team that went on a tour of New Zealand and what that team did during the tour was totally unexpected. While the Test series against the New Zealand team ended with one victory for each of the teams, the Indian Army team won 17 of the other 19 matches with two of them ending as a draw.
The Southern Hemisphere may have been better suited to Dhyan Chand’s stick work because during a later tour of New Zealand and Australia, in 1935, he scored 201 goals in 43 matches. By the end of his international, Dhyan Chand finished with 570 goals in 185 appearances.
When the first National Hockey Tournament was organised, the Indian Army team was not a participant in the five-team competition. Since the newly-formed Indian Hockey Federation was planning to send an Indian team to the 1928 Summer Olympics, the Army permitted Dhyan Chand to represent his home state of United Provinces. With Dhyan Chand as the centre-forward for the UP team, the title was a foregone conclusion.
When the Indian team left for the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, it was low on funds and had a not-so-encouraging departure as it lost a match to Bombay XI. However, once on foreign soil, it was a different story. In fact, due to the ignominy of a defeat against India in a pre-Olympic game, the England team decided not to participate in the 1928 Olympics.
Thanks mainly to Dhyan Chand and later supported ably by his equally talented younger brother, Roop Singh, India won the hockey gold medal again in 1932, at Los Angeles and in 1936, at Berlin. At the latter, Adolf Hitler’s theory of ‘Aryan Supremacy’ was sent for a toss right under the dictator’s nose when Jesse Owens won four gold medals and the German hockey team received a drubbing of 8-1, in the final. It is said that Hitler offered the rank of Colonel to Dhyan Chand in the German Army which the Indian refused.
The Second World War robbed the sporting world of two Olympic Games and perhaps, Dhyan Chand of some greater glories. In 1956, Dhyan Chand retired from the Punjab Regiment of the Indian Army. The same year he was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Indian government. In December 1979, the Wizard bid his final farewell to everything mundane.
Unfortunately, Dhyan Chand lived in an age when sport was neither financially rewarding nor appreciated highly in India. However, the fables of Dhyan Chand shall continue to inspire sportsmen forever and till eternity.