So many sports, so many teams, heroes by the score. But which was that one line-up of Indians that simply took the breath away? Crest Sport dived into the archives to rediscover the glory of Dhyan Chand and his men at the 1936 Olympics. Few Indian teams inspired more fear.
It’s perplexing that the world discovered its greatest team – The Dream Team – as late as 1992. Led by the inimitable Michael Jordan and equally charismatic Magic Johnson, the United States of America’s array of NBA divas was possibly the finest lineup of players ever assembled at any point in history.
Boasting of 10 all-time great players (in a 12-member roster), the team had an aura that was more powerful than the Olympic Games itself.
It is said, almost self-depracatingly, that America won its easiest gold ever on the basketball court that magical summer in Barcelona: the Dream Team simply had to line up outside the stadium for the opponents to feel dunked.
There were, of course, many great teams before the Dream Team, and a few later too; but nobody dared to call any of them anything more than The Invincibles, The Destroyers, Galacticos etc.
Pele’s all-conquering machine of the seventies, in fact, was bestowed the quaint title Boys from Brazil: cute but not fearinducing, as they actually were.
Many spend days, if not weeks or months, drawing up all-time best XIs in their favourite sport; but that is more an exercise in fantasy, picking a player from one generation on a whim and chopping another from another era in a fit of malice.
The sad part is that such a team, however formidable it may seem, can only beat boredom; it can never beat a real team as it can only be gathered in one’s wildest dreams.
Maybe that is why every country, indeed every club, has its own definitive greatest team plucked out of the record books, a team that really existed and decimated oppositions by sheer personality; some of them may have lost part of their sheen due to the ravages of time or the decaying of memory. There is, however, no doubt – at least in their minds – that they were the ultimate winning machines.
Does India, a sleeping giant as far as sport goes, have any such legacy? Has it ever seen a team that could be counted as first among greats, a team that could have beaten any other side, of any other period without even batting a bored eyelid? Well, we have been the World Cup winners in cricket; just recently, we had even become Number One in One-day cricket too.
But somehow only one squad ranks as the best of all time, rising above all others and sparkling in its own splendour and greatness. Yes, we are talking about the hockey team of Dhyan Chand, The Magicians of the Thirties; they evoke admiration even now, more than 70 years on. Even more specifically, the lineup that dazzled Adolf Hitler himself and humbled the mighty Germans in the Berlin Olympics in 1936 has no equal.
The mystique surrounding The Magicians has its origins in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games; as Dhyan Chand and his boys danced their way to gold, the world became conscious of the unique talent the country, still a subject nation, possessed for this stick and ball game. Till then, India was seen only as an exotic land of the occult, of snake charmers, rope trick mendicants and practitioners of black magic; after that it came to be known as a land of hockey wizards too.
Like all great teams, the 1936 squad was led by the game’s greatest player ever: Dhyan Chand. He could proudly rub square shoulders with Don Bradman, Pele or any other legend that ruled his/her sport. It also boasted of at least five-six other match-winners and had an unblemished record. Over the years, the aura might have become larger than life; but the truth is during its playing days, it actually inspired dread.
Let us not forget India’s amazing record for even one moment: eight Olympic gold, one silver and two bronze, a World Cup triumph in 1975 and a runner-up spot in 1973 underline its domination and pedigree in the game. So what if it hasn’t won a single major title in ages? So what if cricket has become the new opium for the masses? Hockey still reigns in the minds of true sport’s fans in the nation.
The partition of the country in 1947 and the creation of Pakistan have clearly dented its hegemony. There have been other great Indian hockey teams nonetheless: if there was an icon like Dhyan Chand in undivided pre-Independence India, there were heroic players like Balbir Singh (Senior) in the post-Partition era, also a winner of three Olympic gold medals.