Hockey may not officially be the national game of India, but its right up there on the second spot when it comes to the most popular sports in the country. During the glory days of Indian hockey inspired by Major Dhyan Chand, the team won 8 gold, 1 silver, and 2 bronze medals in the Olympics which is far better than any other nation's record. Though we have seen a decline in the achievements of the National team ever since the 1980s, our up and coming youngsters along with the established legends like Dhanraj Pillay and Sardar Singh have always held their own against the top sides of the world. Let's take a look at 5 legendary hockey players to have represented the tri-color:
5. Dhanraj Pillay
Known as the "Puneri Toofan" (Storm of Pune), Pillay debuted for India in 1989 and went on to feature in over 330 international for the country in which he piled up more than 170 goals during the course of his career till 2004. The former Indian Captain, known for his pace and shrewd attacking abilities was honored with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award in the year 1999-2000. India won the 1998 Asian Games and Asia Cup 2003 under Pillay and he was named the player of the tournament in the 2002 Champions Trophy held in Germany. Currently, he serves as the manager of Indian Hockey team.
4. Leslie Claudius
He was a part of India's golden generation of hockey that secured the Olympic gold in 1948, 1952 and 1956 and silver in 1960. Leslie Claudius and Udham Singh are the only Indian players in the history to win 4 Olympic medals in field hockey. According to his teammates, Leslie was an extremely devoted athlete. His energy level was remarkable and the ability to innovate and foresee an attack was incredibly sharp. Claudius led India to the runners-up finish in the 1960 Olympics and was conferred with Padma Shri in 1971. Leslie Claudius passed away in Kolkata after a prolonged illness on 20th December 2012 at 85 years of age.
3. Shankar Laxman
The Forgotten Legend of Indian Hockey, Shankar Lakshman was the first ever goalkeeper to captain an international hockey team. He played hockey at a time when the goalkeepers were provided with only the pads as a protective gear. He was the goalkeeper of the Indian side in the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Olympics, that won 2 golds and 1 silver medal. He was often referred to as "the rock of Gibraltar" by his opponents. After retiring from Hockey in 1968, Lakshman served the Indian Army till 1979. He died in 2006 at the age of 73 due to Gangrene.
2. Balbir Singh Sr.
Balbir Singh Dosanjh is widely considered as the greatest ever center-forward to have set foot on the hockey field. He holds the record for most number of individual goals in an Olympic men's hockey final. He netted the ball 5 times in India's 6-1 victory against the Netherlands in the gold medal game of the 1952 Olympics. Balbir Singh Sr. was also hailed as the modern-day Dhyan Chand during his peak. As a matter of fact, Singh wasn't originally included in the Indian squad for the 1948 Olympics as he could not make it to Mumbai or Kolkata to attend the national camp. But after a lot of hue and cry and political intervention, he was selected and scored 2 goals in India's 4-0 win over Britain in the final. He was the first sports personality to be awarded the Padma Shri in 1957.
1. Major Dhyan Chand
No words can be enough to describe 'the Wizard'. Dhyan Chand earned 3 Olympic Gold Medals for India from 1928 to 1936 during the golden age of Indian hockey where his influence rubbed off and the team won 7 Golds out of 8 between 1928 and 1964. He was the leading goal-scorer at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics with 14 goals. Chand and his younger brother Roop Singh were dubbed as the 'hockey twins' who used to terrorize their opponents with their magical skills. During the 1936 Olympics at Berlin, the whole city had posters saying “Visit the hockey stadium to watch the Indian magician Dhyan Chand in action.” Undoubtedly the best hockey player in history, Dhyan Chand scored over 400 goals over the course of his international career. The whole world, from Hitler to the Britishers, was in awe of Chand's dribbling skills. Even after his death in 1979, Dhyan Chand's legacy lives on undeterred. India's highest award for lifetime achievement in sports is the Dhyan Chand Award which is awarded annually to sporting figures who not only contribute through their performance but also contribute to the sport even after their retirement.