Hockey giants in a tailspin at London World Cup

Sixth World Cup – London, England (Oct 4-19, 1986)

The sixth World Cup, scheduled within a couple of days after the Asian Games in South Korea, saw Asian hockey giants India and Pakistan arriving in London directly from Seoul jet-lagged and fatigued. Predictably, the next fortnight was a nightmare for both.

While the hosts marked the Centenary of Hockey Association of England by duly making it to the final where they lost to the all-conquering Australians, the two Asian neighbours went into a tailspin of disaster with Pakistan finishing 11th and India, 12th and last.

The Asian Games in Seoul saw India for the first time failing to reach the final of the regional competition and eventually finishing third.

“Quite a few players wanted to skip the World Cup after taking part in the Asian Games. The long distance travel to London across time zones was a gruelling prospect for most of us, but we had no choice. We had nothing left in us when we arrived in London, and it was much the same with Pakistan,” recalled M.M. Somaya.

But for India, the deathblow was delivered the previous year in Dhaka when five players were suspended following the fracas in the Asia Cup final against Pakistan after an umpiring decision.

“At one stroke, we lost a bunch of five top players (Mervyn Fernandes, Romeo James, Hardeep Singh, Rajinder Singh and Tikken Singh) at a time when things were looking up for Indian hockey. The damage was irreparable,” he said.

Further, following the Asian Games debacle, there was much confusion with regard to composition of the team. Ajit Pal Singh replaced Jhaman Lal Sharma as the coach and four changes were made in the team. One of the players arrived in London after the tournament began, and in the team list for the first match the management entered his name by the common surname “Singh”!

In the event, the Indians lost 0-1 to Poland, 1-2 to Spain and 0-6 to Australia in the league. Their only consolation came from a 2-0 win against Canada and 2-2 draw with West Germany.

India lost 2-3 to Pakistan in extra-time in the 11-12 position match; that was witnessed by only a handful of spectators as the former kings of hockey bit the dust.

Indian team:

Goalkeepers: Rajinder Singh Rawat, Neelkamal Singh. Full-backs: Pargat Singh, Mohinder Pal Singh, Vineet Kumar. Half-backs: M.M. Somaya, Hardeep Singh, Joachim Carvalho, B.K. Subramani, Abdul Aziz. Forwards: Ram Prakash Singh, Tikken Singh, Marcellus Gomes, Balwinder Singh, Mohammad Shahid (captain), Thoiba Singh. Coach: Ajit Pal Singh.

How they finished:

1. Australia; 2. England; 3. West Germany; 4. USSR; 5. Spain; 6. Argentina; 7. The Netherlands; 8. Poland; 9. New Zealand; 10. Canada; 11. Pakistan; 12. India.

(Anand Philar can be