Hockey World Cup 2018: An afternoon with Michael Kindo, India's world-beating defender who dazzled with his skills and smarts
Michael Kindo, once the backbone of India's defence, now leads a retired life. Firstpost catches up with one of the best full-backs India ever had.
Editor's Note: India's hockey legend Michael Kindo, 73, passed away on 31 December, 2020. Two years back, Firstpost interviewed him at his Rourkela residence. The interview is being republished.
Rourkela: Peter Tirkey, Odisha's veteran hockey coach, points towards left goalpost at the SAIL Academy in Rourkela and goes, "He stays just there." The question posed to him was: Where does Michael Kindo live? Tirkey, obviously, meant a general direction, but he couldn't have been more accurate. Michael Kindo indeed hovered around India's goalpost for much of his playing career, fending off forwards with consummate ease.
Now 71, Kindo is leading a retired life in his Rourkela home, accompanied by his wife and his son's family. The years have taken their toll. His voice fades in a blur of incomprehensible sound, his memory is shaky, and his hearing is suspect. It's as if his brain processes sentences as certain keywords, for Kindo picks some words and elaborates.
One such word eventually registers. 1975.
"Oh, 1975! It was a memorable win of my career," he says in Sadri, an Odia dialect spoken chiefly by the Oran tribe that abounds the region.
"We were a good team. The team spirit was very good, and we played as a unit."
Kindo follows the ongoing Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar on television, and was invited at the event's opening ceremony last month. However, he didn't travel due to health reasons.
"I watch the matches on TV, but I don't recognise many players. I think Birendra Lakra is good. He is a very hardworking player. Dipsan Tirkey is also a good player.
"It's good that the World Cup is being held in Bhubaneswar. The home advantage will be with us," he says.
That's pretty much all he would say the entire afternoon until his memory is put to a further test with an archival photograph of the world-beating batch of 1975. Kindo tries his luck and identifies himself, Ashok Kumar and Aslam Sher Khan with a child-like chuckle.
"These were some very good players. Surjit Singh was our other full-back. (VJ) Phillips was the right-out, Ashok Kumar was right-in, Shivaji Pawar was centre-forward, (Leslie) Fernandez was the goalkeeper, Ajitpal Singh was our captain.
"Winning that World Cup was magical. The celebrations went on forever, and I remember a grand reception in Chandigarh."
When informed about the medical condition of Balbir Singh Senior, the team's then manager, Kindo's shock and sadness comes through in the form of an abrupt end to his speech. He sinks back in his seat and goes, "He is a nice man. He was a strict manager, but always wanted the welfare of Indian hockey. I wish he recovers soon."
Kindo's colleagues, Ashok Kumar and Aslam Sher Khan, remember him as a committed and honest player who was fun to be with.
"He had a clean heart and was very disciplined, something that he had inherited from the fauj. Kindo was among our most loved teammate, and always cracked jokes to keep the environment light. But once he stepped on the field, he meant business," says Ashok.
"Game-wise, he was very good with tackles and dodges. I would say he was among the best defenders of his time, and the team depended a lot on him. We knew if the ball is with Kindo, he won't let it pass.
"Another feature of Kindo's hockey was his accuracy. He couldn't hit long passes, but while taking the 16-yard hit, he would just glance at an unmarked teammate and look elsewhere. He wouldn't even look at that person, but the pass would land there with pin-point precision. That is something that I have not seen in any player and even today, I tell kids to practice that art," the three-time World Cup medallist says.
Khan, who memorably replaced Kindo in the semi-final of the 1975 World Cup against Malaysia when India trailed 1-2 with few minutes to go, recalls the maturity with which Kindo accepted the decision.
"Our coach thought that replacing Surjit — who was missing a lot of penalty corners — will break his confidence. Eventually, they decided to replace Kindo, even though he was not a drag-flicker. But he took it very sportingly. He said he knew I deserved to be played," recalls Khan.
Khan went on to score the crucial equaliser in the 65th minute, and India beat Malaysia in the extra time. Khan's sizzling form ensured his place in the final against Pakistan, which meant Kindo missed that game completely.
"He never had any hard feelings. He had a very clean heart. He was very happy to win the World Cup," Khan recalls.
"He was a very good player; a very intelligent player. As a defender, he always knew where the ball would come from. His sense of positioning, tackle, and interception were all top of the line. His only limitation was that he didn't have a penalty corner shot, but overall, he was world class."
Far from such platitudes though, Kindo is leading an unhurried life in his quaint retreat where, apart from some local hockey enthusiasts, not many drop by. Among the first tribals to play for independent India and certainly the only one to win a World Cup, Kindo's legacy quietly lives on the region, just the way the unassuming armyman would have liked.
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