Reckoned to be one of the best teams ever in the post-Independence era, the Indian squad for the 1984 Olympics glowed with talent and promise to an extent that nothing less than a medal was expected of it. The side, led by left-winger Zafar Iqbal, nearly lived up to the expectations, but missed the semi-final berth by a whisker, and with it a medal.
The uniqueness of the team lay not so much in the players or the collective talent as in the concept of 'total hockey' that coach Balkrishen Singh introduced.
The new strategy that called for a four-man midfield instead of the traditional three half-backs was heavily criticised by the traditionalists who preferred the 'Inverted Pyramid' pattern that was synonymous with Asian hockey.
However, Balkrishen, a deep thinker that he was, stoutly defended the new system that was in vogue in Europe by saying he had the players who could adjust to the different roles assigned to them. He was obviously referring to the robust and aggressive Joaquim Carvalho and the highly skillful Hardeep Singh. The pair took up positions between the two wing half-backs.
It also meant that the number of forwards was reduced from five to four with Zafar Iqbal, Mohd Shahid, Mervyn Fernandis and Charanjit Kumar in attacking roles while Hardeep occasionally doubled up as the fifth forward.
The Indian team did exceptionally well in the league where their only loss was to Australia and needed to beat Germany in their last game to advance to the semi-finals. However, India could manage only a goalless draw and Germany scrambled into the medal rounds.
India went on to defeat New Zealand and Holland in the classification matches to finish a creditable fifth when a medal was theirs for the asking.
Indian team: Zafar Iqbal (captain), Romeo James, Neel Kamal Singh, Vineet Kumar, Manohar Topno, Iqbaljit Singh Grewal, MM Somaya, Joaquim Carvalho, Rajinder Singh, Ravinder Pal Singh, Hardeep Singh, Charanjit Kumar, Marcellus Gomes, Mervyn Fernandis, Syed Jalaluddin, Mohd Shahid.
League - India beat US 5-1 (Mervyn Fernandis 2; Joaquim Carvaho 1; Charanjit Kumar 1; Mohamed Shahid 1).
India beat Malaysia 3-1 (Vineet Kumar 3).
India beat Spain 4-3 (Mervyn Fernandis 2; Hardeep Singh 1; Mohamed Shahid 1)
India lost to Australia 2-4 (Vineet Kumar 1; Joaquim Carvalho 1).
India drew with West Germany 0-0.
Classification (5-8 positions): India beat New Zealand 1-0 (Vineet Kumar 1). For 5-6 positions: India beat Netherlands 5-2 (Mervyn Fernandis 2); Vineet Kumar 1; Shahid 1; Zafar Iqbal 1).
Positions: Pakistan 1; Germany 2; Great Britain 3; Australia 4; India 5; The Netherlands 6; New Zealand 7; Spain 8; Kenya 9; Canada 10; Malaysia 11; USA 12.
(Anand Philar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)