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Mohammed Shahid: Hockey's great genius

July 30, 2016 12:13 IST

'Shahid was an artist, the kind who treated the hockey pitch as his own canvas.'
Olympian Joaquim Carvalho tells Dhruv Munjal about his legendary teammate, who could dribble past anyone in the world.

Mohammed Shahid

IMAGE: With silky skill and swift thinking, Mohammed Shahid was the finest player of his time. Photograph: Twitter

Much before hockey turned into a sport characterised by dizzying speed and little skill, and the art of skipping past your marker was cruelly extinguished, and the screaming long pass from your own circle to the opposition's was still an objectionable myth, there was Mohammed Shahid.

Shahid was an artist, the kind who treated the hockey pitch as his own canvas and his stick the brush whose strokes were so elegant and adept that he could effortlessly conjure up one masterpiece after another.

With silky skill and swift thinking, he was the finest player I ever saw or played with. And, I doubt the world will again be blessed with a talent of such magnitude.

Hockey was God's gift to him and he put it to such beautiful effect that his achievements will be talked about for years to come.

'Shahid was an artist, the kind who treated the hockey pitch as his own canvas and his stick the brush whose strokes were so elegant and adept that he could effortlessly conjure up one masterpiece after another.'

His death has left me deeply saddened. More than a teammate, Shahid was like a friend, brother and mentor. More tellingly, he was an inspiration -- he played at a level all of us wanted to reach. But then Shahid was Shahid; he was untouchable.

I remember meeting him for the first time at the national camp in Patiala in 1979. The fact that he was blessed with enormous skill was easily apparent. He would go past defenders in a jiffy, often leaving them in a daze.

The partnership he forged with Zafar Iqbal upfront is easily the most potent I've ever seen. The way they used to carve open defences was a thing of real beauty. I and Sommayya Maneypande used to play around the half line and not venture beyond it; and in front of us, Shahid and Iqbal used to put up a sumptuous exhibition of attacking hockey.

It was always delightful to watch. Later, when Merwyn Fernandes joined the two, it became all the more alluring.

All the oppositions we came up against tried their best to stop him. Australia, for example, used to move David Bell from left half to right half to counter Shahid. But he was such a slippery customer; it was virtually impossible to stop him.

Later, when we played against Pakistan and other big European sides, the entire team made sure that no rough tactics were employed against Shahid and he wasn't bullied. Shahid, after all, was the best player in the team.

Mohammed ShahidEven though Shahid knew that he was head and shoulders above the rest, he loved to compete. I distinctly remember how shattered he was after our poor showing at the 1985 Champions Trophy in Perth. We were a decent side but we barely played up to our potential during that tournament.

Next up was the Sultan Azlan Shah Trophy in Malaysia. There too, we got off to a horrendous start -- losing 1-2 to Spain after dominating the game for major portions. Shahid took this wretched run of results to heart.

For the next game, he persuaded me to have the captain's armband. I was initially reluctant but accepted the responsibility. He insisted that this might bring us a change of luck. And, it did. Much to the surprise of several people, we decimated Australia 4-2 in the next game.

Soon after the match, I returned the armband, telling him that it was he who truly deserved it. But it was so nice of him to give it to me in the first place.

Despite his astounding talent, Shahid's preparation before every game was extremely meticulous. His kit bag -- the team uniform, the socks, the wrist bands -- was supremely organised. You would never find him shabbily dressed -- he somehow always managed to look suave.

If a game were to start at 5 o'clock, he would mentally start preparing for the game at 1 o'clock itself. He used to dribble with the ball in the room and then replicate his genius on the pitch.

'It is unfortunate that people are only remembering him now that he is no more. For a man of his impeccable service and paranormal talent, he should never have fallen off the public conscience.'

But more than that, he was such a lovely human being: Full of life and always a great guy to be around. If you were in a room with him, there was never a dull moment.

He loved to pull pranks on his teammates -- I was often one of his targets. In his spare time, he used to write in a tiny diary. He was left-handed and had a beautiful handwriting. He was an artist in the truest sense of the word.

It is unfortunate that people are only remembering him now that he is no more. For a man of his impeccable service and paranormal talent, he should never have fallen off the public conscience.

Hopefully, he will live long in the memory now.

Mohammed Shahid, you leave behind a void that will never be filled. You will be sorely missed.

Dhruv Munjal
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