Former India captain and Olympian Aslam Sher Khan recalled the day of the final of the 1975 hockey World Cup, when team manager Balbir Singh Senior travelled to a mosque to offer namaz with him.
Speaking on the Express Sports podcast, Aslam shared memories of his time with the three-time Olympic gold medallist Balbir, who passed away on May 25. The lone Muslim in the Indian team, Aslam was preparing for a trip to Kuala Lumpur mosque — in a bus also carrying the Pakistan team members — when Balbir stepped into his room.
“‘Beta I’ll also offer namaz with you’, he said. It was our strength that Allah, Waheguru, Bhagwan everybody came together for us. We went to the mosque, (Balbir) was wearing a red turban… It had an effect on the Pakistan team,” Aslam said.
“Their great hockey player Abdul Rashid Jr turned to his teammates and said, ‘now, it’s tough for Pakistan to win’. Everybody asked, ‘why’? Abdul said, ‘Ab jab sardar pehli baar namaz padenge, toh naturally allah unki pehle sunenge. (Now when a Sikh will offer namaz for the first time, god will listen to his prayers first).”
India beat Pakistan 2-1 to win their only World Cup title.
Aslam further paid tribute to the hockey legend, calling him an “outstanding person off the field” who “wanted to put together a united Indian team.”
“(Balbir’s) playing career is part of the golden history of Indian hockey, but a person is outstanding when he excels both on and off the field. As a manager, he wanted to put together a united Indian team, with the strength of all religions put together. He worked on that during the training camp at Chandigarh itself. He built a prayer room in the Chandigarh hostel for all religions,” Aslam said.
“When we were stepping on the field… somebody was from Punjab, someone from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Bhopal… Balbir still had to face that thing in Kuala Lumpur once, when I was out of the team.”
Khan did not get a chance to play in the league matches of the 1975 World Cup. During the semifinal against Malaysia, the Indian team was trailing and manager Dosanjh and coach Bodhi were involved in an animated discussion over whether to replace Michael Kindo with Khan. Dosanjh’s argument prevailed and he held Khan’s face in his hands and said, “ja beta, ab tera khuda hi bharat ko bacha sakta hai”.
Two minutes later, Khan’s goal through a penalty corner ensured the match was tied 2-2 and went into extra time where Harcharan Singh scored the winner.
“Ultimately, he knew that I had a role to play. When it was time in semifinal, he received the signal from the powers above. Ki yahan ek musalman ladke ki zarurat hai, jo khuda ka naam leke bhi maidan pe utre (a Muslim player is needed here, who can step on the field praying to his God).”
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