Shankar Lakshman – The Forgotten Legend of Indian Hockey

We Indians love to call ourselves die hard fans of sports; we love to boast about how sporting facilities are developing in the country and how Indian sportsmen/women are making a mark in the world of sports. Most of the Indians follow sportsperson, especially, cricketers religiously, but there are signs of positive change in the attitude people in India who love sports. Indians have started following great footballers like Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar and many other international sporting stars. Indians also have become fans of many domestic sportsperson due to the commercialization of sports in India which has grabbed the attention of cricket lovers and have introduced them to a whole new world of sports which has made them chose role models from sports other than cricket. While all these are good signs, we have forgotten the heroes who made a mark at the international level and made the country proud by their achievements.

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Sadly Hockey, India’s national sport has also not been able to catch the imagination of its citizens. Except for Major Dhyanchand, there’s hardly any other hockey player who has received due respect and recognition. One such hockey legend who has been forgotten in the history books is none other than Mr. Shankar Laxman, who was the part of Indian hockey team which won two gold and one silver medal. This article makes an attempt to pay homage and revisit the glorious years when hockey had a status close to religion in India.

Two time Olympic gold medalist Shankar Laxman, who died aged 73 due to Gangrene, was one of the greatest hockey players India ever produced. He was the first goalkeeper to become the captain of an international hockey team and the only player in the world to have played in three successive Olympic finals.

The forgotten hero of hockey, Shankar Laxman was born at a military base near Indore in Madhya Pradesh on 7th of July, 1933. At a tender age of 13, Laxman dropped out of school in Indore, to pursue his passion, hockey. This pursuit led Laxman to join Indian Army and by 1955 he was already representing the services team in the national championship.

Just a year after representing the service team, Laxman was picked as the goal keeper of the national team that was to tour Melbourne to take part in the Olympics. In his very first Olympics, Laxman tasted success as the Indian Team won the gold medal by defeating the arch rivals Pakistan in the final. The interesting fact about this Olympics was that India did not lose even a single match and won all the matches convincingly stamping their authority on the sport.

In 1958, Laxman once again was the part of Indian hockey team which won the Gold Medal at the Asian Games which was held in Tokyo. It’s interesting to note here that, it was in 1958 that hockey was first introduced in Asian Games.

The Indian team which was riding high on 30 straight wins in Olympics was handed over a defeat by its neighbors, Pakistan hockey team in 1960 Olympics which was held in Rome and this attracted a huge amount of criticism on the team, and Laxman especially was the target of abuse back home.

Laxman, not the one to give up worked hard, and his efforts paid off as he became the star goalkeeper in the Asian Games held in Jakarta in 1962 and the same Laxman who was ridiculed in 1960 suddenly started ruling the hearts of Indians. The highest point in his career as a sportsman came when India once again defeated Pakistan in the finals winning a gold medal in Tokyo Olympics which was held in 1964. This victory brought immense joy not only to Laxman but also to all the sports lovers as the Government of India was awarded India’s highest sports honor, the coveted Arjuna Award.

In 1966 Laxman became the first goalkeeper to captain an international hockey team. Shankar Laxman led the team from the front, extending the golden period of the game in India. Under Laxman’s captaincy, India defeated the arch rivals Pakistan to win a gold medal in the Asian Games held in Bangkok. In 1967, Laxman was honored with prestigious Padma Shri by President of India, in recognition of his sporting achievements.

The year 1968 was a year of utter disappointment not only for Laxman but for the sporting fans as their hero Shankar Laxman was not included in the squad which had to leave for Olympics to be held in Mexico. Laxman could not hold it together and hence announced his retirement subsequently. The retirement of Laxman was followed by India’s flop show in Mexico, and since then India has not been able to go back to the glory days when they would win matches against any opposition.

Laxman being the competitor he was, returned to serve in the Indian Army and retired in 1979 as an honorary captain in the Maratha Light Infantry. This legend of hockey who was once a celebrated sportsperson lived in poverty for the most of his last few years as hockey authorities did not pay any heed to his plea for help and were left on his own. Shankar Laxman died a sorry death on April 29, 2006, neglected by authorities and forgotten by sports lovers bringing down curtains on what was a fascinating career which brought great glory not only to the nation but also to the sport – Hockey.

We Indians need to introspect and start treating every sportsperson at par with cricketers. We also should raise our hands in the time of need and take a firm stand in favor of legends who have given their everything for the sake of the nation. We as a nation have to rise and give due respect and recognition that they so rightly deserve.

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