It was clear when I first met Mohammed Shahid that this boy was destined to be a big player. He was the first truly modern player you’d see during that time. If you were to compare him in the present context, only football’s Lionel Messi would come close. No one else.
The first time I met him was at a 10-day camp we had ahead of a four-nation invitational tournament in Malaysia. He was quite a naughty guy, very flashy, showing off his tricks with the ball despite him training with senior players. It didn’t matter to him. We saw him play and immediately decided that this boy will play. At the tournament, you should have seen the faces of some of the Pakistan defenders when he dribbled past them. They were so surprised because they had never seen hockey like this before. His ball carrying skills, and goal-getting abilities were unparalleled.
What really set him apart was also the fact that he was a natural left-hander, and he refused to be dominated by the hockey stick that is designed to benefit right-handers. Often when one is dribbling and a defender gets in the way, the general tendency is to shift to the right so that we can get a clear shot. So defenders would anticipate the forwards to do that and they’d block the attacker.
They’d also think Shahid would move to his right. But Shahid was lefty, he’d fake the defender into thinking that he’s going right, then left and speed off at ease before unleashing a powerful and accurate reverse hit.
Then there were his one-hand tricks. He had a strong left hand. Because you anyway hold the stick from the back with the left hand, he could dribble one-handed and make passes that way. It really caught many people off guard.
Off field, he was a very pleasant person. You’d often see him walking around, humming a few Kishore Kumar songs along with a few Ghazals. He was always singing. In fact, sometimes before some big matches, players would sit quietly in the dressing room, often nervous. But not Shahid. He was busy walking around singing songs and telling others to sing as well. You’d think he never felt any pressure, and the way he’d behave, he’d relieve pressure on his teammates. He’d always say, “mereko ball de do. Hum khelega (Give me the ball, I’ll play.”
Just after the 1980 Olympics, he became one of the most wanted entities in domestic hockey. I was captain of the Railways team and I knew I was going to retire in a few years. I wanted to bring in a few players to replace me, and Shahid was one of the big names on the list.
And our opponents on the domestic circuit knew of his importance too. Time and again they’d try to injure him to stop him. They’d hit him with their sticks, but he’d still dribble past them. He didn’t worry, but I got scared of him getting injured. I would then get in the way and try to protect him by fighting with the opposition players.
Together, playing in all those tournaments throughout the year, I got to know him a little better. He was always a jovial guy, never stressed himself or his teammates. But at night, he was very annoying. He’d wake up suddenly, and start tapping the ball with his stick against the wall. It would disturb us all. He’d never let us sleep till he himself would get tired and finish at around two in the morning! We’d scold him, shout at him, but nothing would work. We had to learn to sleep with the sound of him tapping the ball against the wall. That’s who he really was. A dribbler, scorer, singer, and a modern player in true sense.
—Baskaran is a former India captain. He spoke to Shahid Judge