India vs Pakistan isn't just another hockey match, the intensity goes well beyond the realm of sport

During an India vs Pakistan hockey match, the trophy is of no consequence; it can be a pool match or a final. It’s a psychological battle and a win is about bragging rights.

Sundeep Misra June 18, 2017 16:36:50 IST
India vs Pakistan isn't just another hockey match, the intensity goes well beyond the realm of sport

The 2003 Champions Trophy Hockey was held at the Wagener Stadium in the town of Amstelveen, Holland. India had beaten Germany 3-2, lost to Holland 4-3 after leading 3-1 and then got destroyed 4-1 by Australia. Pakistan were next and tickets had been sold out. Even touts were looking for tickets. Amstelveen had become the melting pot for India and Pakistan fans. Indian fans had flown in from England, Belgium, Norway, and Germany. Some drove in and by the time the ground had opened, clusters of Indian and Pakistan fans with flags were already marching towards the stadium.

The Wagener Stadium is not built like a war zone. Cobbled streets converge into the stadium, which anyway looks like a village setting. Fans that had been there in previous years parked their cars in the city centre and took either trams or buses to the stadium. Dutch police had already been informed that India-Pakistan was playing so a few fireworks were expected. The match was at 4 pm; the sun shining brightly. Planes constantly flew overhead as the stadium was in the flight path to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. It was a perfect setting for an India-Pakistan match.

India vs Pakistan isnt just another hockey match the intensity goes well beyond the realm of sport

File image from India's 3-2 against Pakistan in the Asian Champions Trophy 2016. AFP

India, led by Dhanraj Pillay, had the likes of Deepak Thakur, Gagan Ajit Singh, Ignace Tirkey, Jugraj Singh, Prabhjot Singh and Dilip Tirkey. Pakistan, led by Sohail Abbas, had the brilliant Salman Akbar in goal and forwards of the quality of Rehan Butt, Dilawar Hussain, Mudassar Ali and Raza Ali. With a few minutes to go for the match, tensions were high and a group of fans had already clashed. Dutch security had kept different stands for the fans. Yet they somehow managed to square off with each other. "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" and “Allahu Akbar" filled the air as the game began.

By the 20th minute, Pakistan were 2-0 ahead. In the 22nd minute, Jugraj pulled one back for India before Pakistan made it 3-1. Jugraj fired in another penalty corner and it was 2-3. Indian fans were finding their voice. The Dutch were enjoying every bit. They were watching a rivalry that made even theirs with Germany look second rate. Along with the tension, player skills had gone to a different level.

After the break, Pakistan were 4-2 up and it seemed they would pull away. Rehan was brilliant and the Indian defence were desperately trying to hold him. The Indian fans had fallen silent. Deepak scored followed by Prabhjot and the score board read 4-4. It was mayhem now. Fans were falling over the fence. Extra security was called in. The Indian tricolor and the Pakistan crescent waged a match of their own in the stands. In the 60th and 62nd minute, Gagan Ajit Singh made it 6-4. And with five minutes to go, Deepak made it 7-4. There was no holding back the Indian fans. They jumped on to the turf, with the security after them. The Indian team was led away as both Pakistan and Indian fans hurled abuses at each other.

An India-Pakistan match is not just a game. The intensity of the match goes well beyond the realm of sport. It’s a psychological battle between two teams almost remote-controlled by their millions of fans, or at least they seem to believe they do. Amstelveen was just another backdrop to these high-intensity games that had fans transfixed.

Ask Chennai fans who had come for the 1995 SAF Games final when India beat Pakistan, the then World Champions, 5-2 and they would say, “An unforgettable match.” But it goes beyond just a mere match. It’s a clash for respect, pride, dignity, honour, and also to an extent, ego. Or as coach Rajinder Singh said to the team before the Amstelveen Champions Trophy game, "Oye, Jaan de deo aaj" (Give your lives today).

Hockey became a symbolic sport for India after the British left. And it was in 1960 at Rome that India lost to Pakistan in the Olympic final for the first time. Leslie Claudius, then captain, said over dinner once, “I didn’t want to come back to Kolkata. Any other team and I could have taken it. But Pakistan! No.” The rivalry had been set. And it has only intensified over the years.

India snatched back the Olympic gold in 1964 at Tokyo. Pakistan captain Manzoor Hussain Atif said before the final, “We are only afraid of your full back Prithipal Singh. Itna gusse mein kyun khelta hai?" (Why does he play with so much anger?) The fact was that Prithipal had lost his home Nankana during the 1947 partition. And he played with a desire to beat Pakistan and calm the storm inside him.

By the early 70s, Pakistan had started dominating. India beat them in the '75 World Cup final and the controversy still rages over the match-winner scored by Ashok Kumar in the final; Pakistan say the ball hit the post and came out and not the inside of the post. These matches were epic in nature. The World Cup final in Kuala Lumpur had more than 60,000 people inside the Merdeka Stadium, crammed into seats, on the ground and hanging over the railings. More than 70 percent of the fans were Malaysian, desperate to watch an India-Pakistan encounter.

In Europe, it is still the most sought after clash. Even though the coaches play it down as just another match, they secretly pray that they don’t lose to their arch-rivals. Dhanraj once said that it was difficult to sleep before a Pakistan match. “It’s one match that we are required to win,” he said. “All sins will be washed away after that.” Of course, it was mostly just "talk" but it showed the impact of the craziness of the tie on the players.

Many India-Pakistan players sat together after a loss or a defeat. In the 1991 Azlan Shah, India beat Pakistan 1-0 and later Shahbaz Ahmed and Pargat Singh were seeing having a laugh over, I guess it was coffee. In the 1989-90 Asia Cup final in New Delhi, fans queued up hours before the match. The Shivaji Stadium was packed, and fans were stranded outside even after the match began. The entire star cast and crew of Ramayana were in the stadium. Yet the fans, angry after Pakistan took a 2-0 lead, started throwing bottles and other objects. The match had to be stopped and then began after police took positions across the fence.

Geographically and politically, an India-Pakistan match is akin to putting fuel to a fire. What is a rivalry if there is no bad blood? Rivalries cannot be "happy" ones. One team has to lose and disappointment is as important an ingredient as euphoria after winning. And nothing can give that feeling better than an India-Pakistan hockey match. Rajinder Singh was in the team when Pakistan beat India 7-1 in the '82 Asian Games final at New Delhi. The city went silent before erupting in anger against the national team. “It was like a sore that didn’t heal for a long time,” said Rajinder. He was the coach when India beat Pakistan 7-4 in the 2003 Champions Trophy in Amstelveen. “A part of me has healed,” he said after the win.

For Pakistan and India fans, the trophy is of no consequence; it can be a pool match or a final. A win is about bragging rights. Trophy comes later, celebrations about beating each other and not losing "the" match is like attaining a temporary high. Fans and players then again wait for the next match; the next emotional churn; the next high.

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