Mumbai: Mohammad Shahid, who passed away at a hospital in Gurgaon on Wednesday, will always be remembered by his friends, teammates and Indian hockey fans as a jovial person off the field but a terror for the defenders inside. A man full of life, a fun-loving character, Shahid used to play practical jokes on his teammates and liven things up when the chips were down in the dressing room. The team of 1984 that had the likes of Mohammad Shahid, Zafar Iqbal, Merwyn Fernandes, MM Somaya, SS Sodhi, Rajinder Singh, is considered by many as one of the most talented outfits India has produced after independence. Needing a win in their final league match in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, this team could manage only a draw against Germany and missed the semifinals by a whisker.
A gifted dribbler, Shahid used to be lightening quick on the field --- he used to talk as fast as he could dribble --- and mesmerizing with his stick work. He played a key role in India winning its eighth Olympic gold medal in 1980 in Moscow and bagging a silver and bronze in the Asian Games (1982, 86 respectively).
Shahid was admitted to SSL Hospital at Banaras Hindu University with severe abdominal pain on June 29. With his health deteriorating, he was flown to New Delhi and admitted at Gurgaon’s Medanta Medicity hospital. He died of liver and kidney failure on Wednesday morning. He was 56.
A GREAT TEAMMATE
“It’s like I have lost my brother,” Joaquim Carvalho, who was Shahid’s teammate in the 1984 Olympic and 1985 Champions Trophy in Perth, told HT on Wednesday. “It’s a very sad day for me and the entire 1984 Olympics team as we lost the second person after our coach Balkishan Singh, who passed away a few years ago. We all were very close.”
Carvalho has seen Shahid from close quarters as he shared a room with him for many years. He narrated some incidents from those times that show what a great personality Shahid was.
“Shahid was my roommate for many years. He was a livewire in the team, always full of life, very jovial and fun-loving but at the same time totally dedicated to the game. If the team did not do well, Shahid used to be very upset but would soon perk us all up with his jokes or pranks, helping us gear up for the next match or tournament,” said Carvalho.
‘FAKE FAN AND ADMIRER’
Shahid was a great prankster but still very popular even among victims of his pranks. “During a camp before the 1984 Olympics, Shahid played a memorable prank on a teammate (I would not like to name him now). The women’s team was also stationed at the Nehru Stadium in New Delhi and Shahid wrote a fake letter on behalf of a woman player to the said teammate, telling him how she admired him. ‘I am a great fan and admire you a lot. You are also a right-out, I also play right-out,’ he wrote in the letter, asking him to look out for her during practice in the evening. For the entire evening session our teammate kept looking out for his ‘fan and admirer’. He later showed that letter to Zafar Iqbal. Many in the team knew of this prank and we all had a hearty laugh. Our teammate did not realise for many years that Shahid had pulled a prank on him,” said Carvalho.
RUN-IN WITH VOLLEYBALL PLAYERS
On another occasion, the hockey players had a run-in with some members of the volleyball team during a camp in Patiala. The players had a heated exchange of words with some of the volleyball players, a normal thing that happens sometimes during camps with players from different sports in the same campus. “Shahid got to know about the incident and when we went there to sort things out, Shahid jumped in front of the volleyball players, called out for hockey great Surjit Singh (the Punjab player who was known as Papa). It was an amusing sight looking at Shahid squaring up against the big guys from the volleyball team, who were anyway retreating so as not to escalate things. But was Shahid thought they were ganging up and surged ahead, shouting “nobody moves from here”. Later, we had a hearty laugh over this,” said Carvalho.
VERY POPULAR WITH COACHES
Shahid was very popular with the coaches and at times his teammates would use him to get things done from the coaches. “We used to put him in front whenever we wanted a day off or something from the coaches. The coaches could never say no to Mohammad Shahid.”
ALWAYS IMMACULATELY DRESSED
Shahid was always well dressed whether on the field or outside and could never go out without his boots on. “During tours, he would dress up in the room and ask me, ‘Joe, how do I look’, and I used to make fun of him calling him ‘Banarasi Babu’.”
Shahid had a peculiar routine for matches; he would get ready for the game hours before, his jersey well ironed, his stockings would be perfect, his kit would be well organised. “For a match starting at 5 ‘clock, he would be ready by 12-12.30 and would dribble the ball in the room for hours. He would not have lunch or breakfast and getting him out of the room for anything other than the match would be very difficult.”
A REAL LEADER
In the Champions Trophy in Perth (1985), India got off to a poor start and lost to Spain. Shahid was very upset by the result. “He kept thinking of it, talking to us all about the match, asking what went wrong. He gave me his armband, saying maybe this will turn things in our favour. In the next match, luck really turned and we defeated Australia 4-2. However, I returned him the armband before the next match, saying as a leader it was his to wear. He was a gem of a person.”
According to Carvalho, Shahid always played with a Gray’s sticks and never with an Indian stick. The manufacturer used to send around 10 sticks at a time and Shahid used to be very particular about them. Such were his dribbling skills that his sticks were regularly investigated initially.
“He was a magician with the stick. While people can tap the ball in the air for long, Shahid could rotate it all over the stick, in 360 degrees. The ball would look as if it was attached to his stick but moving all over. His dribbling skills were exceptional and it was a treat to watch him. On tours abroad, they used to film his dribbling and rival players used to watch those to try and tackle him.
“His combination with Zafar Iqbal was the deadliest in the World --- I have not seen such a pair since --- and they would lord over the left flank, running circles around opponents. Such was their partnership that David Bell, one of Australia’s greatest half backs, used to switch flanks from left to right-half to try and bottle them up,” Carvalho said. After Zafar retired, Shahid developed a similar pairing with Thoiba Singh, “but his tuning with Zafar was something else.”
According to Carvalho, Shahid was the first to use the ‘half-hit’. Initially Shahid could not hit or push (a method of moving or passing the ball in which the stick is in contact with the ball and the ground as the player moves up the field).
“A left-hander, he developed this shot which is in between a hit and a push, very strong when struck from close range and he could beat any goalkeeper from the top of the D. Once on a tour of Australia, they filmed his for hours practicing the ‘half-hit’. Later, Dhanraj Pillay also used the ‘half-hit’ in his early days,” said Carvalho.
Carvalho’s only regret when it comes to Shahid was that the Indian hockey administrators did not use Shahid’s experience and abilities after his retirement. “He was cut off, totally aloof from hockey, away from the dirty politics. I only wished the federation had used his services at the camps or academy, gained from his experience and used him to teach budding players his dribbling skills. Dribbling was our strength and youngsters could have learnt a lot from Shahid, one of the greatest exponents of that skill,” Carvalho added.
Now that Shahid is no more, Indian hockey has not only lost a great exponent of the game but also the chance to use his expertise, forever.