Independence Day Special: Golden moments of Indian sports
Hindustan Times takes a look at seventy-two moments of sporting glory in our Independence Day special. Here is the first of a three part series.
It has been more than seven decades since India broke the shackles of colonialism. Even as a fledgling nation took its first steps towards growth and development after its independence from British rule on August 15, 1947, sports became an instrument of instant global recognition. The relentless pursuit of glory on a sporting field gave birth to new aspirations and also provided a vent for patriotic fervour. There have been several milestones achieved in multiple sporting disciplines over these years by Indians. We, at Hindustan Times, will take a look at seventy-two such moments of glory in our Independence Day special. Here is the first of a three part series.
1) 1948: Independent India’s first Olympic gold medal
The Indian hockey team had already won three gold medals at the Olympic Games but all of them had come for a team that was still a British colony. The 1948 Olympics in London was India’s chance to win its first medal as an independent nation. The skill and ingenuity of the Indians was at full display as they won all their round-robin matches and then edged out a tough Netherlands team 2-1 in the semi-final to reach the summit clash. Great Britain defeated Pakistan in the other semi-final to ensure a classic showdown. In the final at Wembley, Balbir Singh Dosanjh’s brace set up a 4-0 thumping of the former colonial masters as India’s tryst with destiny on a hockey field had a golden beginning.
2) 1951: India hosts inaugural Asian Games
India hosted its first major sporting event as an independent nation in March 1951. The first ever Asian Games were held in the capital in New Delhi which saw 11 Asian nations participate in as many as 57 events. The idea behind the event was to promote the feeling of unity and friendship between newly independent nations in the continent. India finished second in the medal tally behind Japan. India’s Lavy Pinto won the gold medal in the 100 & 200 metres sprints respectively, while the Sailen Manna led football team also won the yellow metal.
3) 1952: KD Jadhav wins India’s first individual Olympic medal
While hockey had helped India create a niche for itself in global sports, the country was witnessing a surge in other sporting disciplines as well. At the Helsinki Games, Maharashtra’s Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav won the bronze medal in the bantamweight category of freestyle wrestling. Jadhav had competed in the London Games in 1948 but had failed to win a medal. He made amends for that miss four years later and remains one of the pioneers of Indian wrestling.
4) 1952: India wins fifth Olympic gold in hockey
The Indian men’s hockey team was near unbeatable in those days and they maintained their top billing by winning the gold medal for the fifth time. India dispatched Great Britain in the semi-finals before thrashing Netherlands 6-1 in the final.
5) 1952: Gool Nasikwala’s gold medals in Asian Table Tennis
While table-tennis remains a sport dominated by countries like China, Japan, South Korea and other nations from South East Asia, India has had several players over the years, who have left a mark at the international level. One of the first players to do that was Gool Nasikwala, who went on to win multiple medals at the inaugural Asian Table Tennis Championship held in Singapore.
6) 1952: India wins first Test series in cricket
Long before cricket became a religion in India, Lala Amarnath had already etched his name in Indian cricket history by becoming the first ever Test centurion from the country in 1933. But his moment of glory came in late 1952 as he captained India to their first ever Test series win. The victory was sweet as it came against bitter rivals Pakistan. India won the first and third Test matches at Delhi and Bombay respectively to eventually win the series 2-1.
7)1956: Another Olympic, another hockey gold
While other countries were coming up fast in hockey, India had still managed to maintain its vice like grip on the event at the Olympics. In a historic first, India and Pakistan contested the final of field hockey at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Randhir Singh Gentle, who had won golds at the two previous Games, scored the only goal of a tightly contested final.
8) 1956: Indian football comes in touching distance of an Olympic medal
After getting a walk-over from the powerful Hungary side, India defeated hosts Australia in the quarter-finals, courtesy a hat-trick by Neville D’souza. The medal dreams though were quashed after a 1-4 loss to Yugoslavia. This is the closest India has come to winning a medal at the Olympics in football.
9) 1958: Billiards produces India’s first world champion
Wilson Jones, an Anglo-India by birth, became the first ever world champion from India after he won the Amateur Billiards World Championship in the year 1958. He went on to win the title again in 1964. He is the considered the pioneer of cue sports in India.
10) 1958: India’s first wrestling gold in Commonwealth Games
India was making a name for itself in wrestling as several athletes competed and did well in global events. It was at the Cardiff Games in 1958 that Indian wrestling won its first gold medal in a multi-sport event. Lila Ram Sangwan took home the yellow metal in the heavyweight category of freestyle wrestling.
11) 1958: An Indian crosses the English channel for the first time
The English channel remains one of the toughest stretches for a swimmer to cross and it is considered one of the biggest tests of human endurance. Mihir Sen became the first Indian to cross the stretch between Dover and Calais in 1958 and thus wrote his name in the history of Indian swimming.
12) 1960: A Wimbledon semi-final for an Indian
Much before racquet sports became a fashion in India, Ramanathan Krishnan created history by reaching the semi-finals at the All England Club. Wimbledon, the oldest tennis tournament in the world, was officially the holy grail of tennis before the Open Era came into existence. Seventh seeded Krishnan’s golden run came to a halt in the last four against eventual champion Neale Fraser of Australia.
13) 1960: Milkha misses his date with history
India’s ‘Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh was considered one of the fastest runners in the world over the quarter-mile distance and his twin golds (200 metres and 400 metres) at the 1958 Tokyo Asian Games had raised hopes of a first ever track and field medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Singh, who was leading the final of the 400 metres race at the half-way stage, went on to finish fourth in what was a close-run final and lost his opportunity to create history.
14) 1961-62: India’s first Test series win over England
England were the inventors of the game of cricket and pretty much the team to beat still. India had been on the wrong end of results against the English on several occasions but that changed in December 1961 and January 1962 as the English came calling for a five-match Test series. After the first three matches were drawn, India trounced the visitors in the last two Test matches at Calcutta and Madras. Nari Contractor was India’s captain but the victories were made possible due to the guile of all-rounder Salim Durani’s left-arm spin.
15) 1962: Indian football’s second Asiad Gold
India won their second gold medal in football at the Asian Games in 1962. A star-studded team with the likes of Chuni Goswami, PK Banerjee and Peter Thangaraj finished second in the group phase after losing to South Korea. A Chuni Goswami brace helped India trump South Vietnam 3-2 in the semi-final. PK Banerjee and Jarnail Singh Dhillon struck early goals in the final as India upset favourites South Korea to win the yellow metal.
16) 1962: India’s first ever Boxing gold in Asian Games
The Jakarta Games provided a first for India as Padam Bahadur Mall gave the country its first gold medal in the sport of boxing. The Indian pugilist beat Japan’s Kanemaru Shiratori in the 60 kg category.
17) 1964: Golden return for Indian hockey
India had lost out on the gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics to Pakistan and were looking to make amends for that loss. Revenge was served cold to the neighbours four years later in Tokyo as India beat Pakistan 1-0 in the final to win its seventh hockey gold at the Olympics. India were not expected to win the top honours but a 3-1 semi-final triumph over favourites Australia gave India a chance at redemption. After a blank first-half, which saw Pakistan dominate, Mohinder Lal converted from a penalty stroke and India held on for the win.
18) 1965: Indians conquer Mount Everest
Mountaineering might not be a popular mainstream sport but it is perhaps the most daring of them all. In May 1965, Indian Army’s third mission to scale the world’s highest peak finally met with success as the team led by Avtar Singh Cheema reached the top. The mission put 9 mountaineers on top of the peak, a record that stood for 17 years.
19) 1966: Hawa Singh wins first of two Asian Games gold medals
A member of the Indian armed forces, Hawa Singh was already a colossus in Indian boxing by the time he reached the Bangkok Games. He punched his way to the gold medal in the heavyweight category and repeated the feat four years later at the same venue. After retirement he co-founded the Bhiwani Boxing Club, which went on to become India’s boxing nursery.
20) 1967: India’s first overseas Test series win in cricket
India were yet to become a force to reckon with in cricket but a new generation of players were taking the sport to a higher pedestal. Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi was one such charismatic figure, who changed the way India played cricket. His aggressive brand of captaincy yielded results as India beat New Zealand 3-1 to register their first ever series victory on foreign soil.
21) 1971: Indian cricketers conquer the Caribbean
The West Indies was a feared destination for batsmen from all over the world. The fearful fast bowlers and the pitches that aided them left several touring batsmen with a bloody face. The Indians were treated to similar hostility but Ajit Wadekar and his men held on. Middle-order batsmen Dilip Sardesai was India’s ‘rock of Gibraltar’ while the genius of Sunil Gavaskar was there for the world to see. The Mumbai-duo produced the runs as India won their maiden series in the Caribbean.
22) 1971: Cricketers conquer England too
India were making a name for themselves in cricket and the team continued its good run under Wadekar’s captaincy. The third Test at The Oval in London was won after BS Chandrasekhar bamboozled the English batsmen. India won the series 1-0, their first on English soil.
23) 1975: India wins hockey World Cup
The third men’s hockey World Cup was held in Kuala Lumpur in 1975. India had to settle for the bronze and silver medal in the previous two competitions respectively. But that wasn’t to be the case this time around. Under Ajit Pal Singh’s captaincy, India finished atop their pool and then edged hosts Malaysia out 3-2 in the semi-final to set up a summit clash with arch rivals Pakistan. Surjit Singh Randhawa and Ashok Kumar, son of the legendary Dhyan Chand, scored in the final as India won 2-1. It remains India’s only gold medal in the men’s hockey World Cup.
24) 1980: India wins its last Olympic hockey gold
The 1976 Games in Montreal had seen India miss out on a hockey medal for the first time as they finished a lacklusture 7th. The 1980 Games in Moscow were marred by withdrawals by top teams. The Indian hockey team beat Spain 4-3 in the final to win their last Olympic gold medal in hockey. The absence of all major powers though took sheen away from the medal.
25) 1980: Padukone conquers All England
In the days before the Superseries events were introduced in the international badminton calendar, the All England Championships used to be one of the most important tournament, where the best players from all over the world competed to take home the coveted prize. Indian shuttler Prakash Padukone, made the world look up and take notice his talent as he went past a tough field to win the championships. He would go on to win the World Cup the next year. He also has to his credit the Commonwealth Games men’s singles gold and has two Asian Games bronze medals in the team event.