Autobiography of Hockey Wizard Dhyan Chand
Published by Sport & Pastime, Chennai, 1952
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Indian Army Tour
|It was a great day for me when my Commanding Officer
called me and said: "Boy, you are to go to New Zealand." I was
dumbfounded, and did not know what to reply. All I did was to click my heels
snappily, give as smart a salute as I possibly could, and beat a hasty
Once out of sight of the officer, I ran like a hare to my barracks and told the news to the soldiers. And what a reception they gave me!
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etween 1922 and 1926, my hockey was entirely confined to army tournaments. I played a lot of hockey almost throughout the year for two reasons: first, my little success in the Delhi tournament on my maiden appearance gave me hope and encouragement to continue playing the game, and second, there were whispers in military hockey circles about the possibility of an Indian Army team visiting New Zealand in the near future.
Being a youngster full of ambition, naturally I felt, quite modestly though, that I might earn a place in the Indian Army team. I was also nervous, firstly because I was a youngster, and secondly, I was an Other Rank. In the military code of life, it was not possible for Other Ranks to approach officers and discuss even sporting matters.
At the same time, being very shy by temperament, I could not directly or indirectly inform anybody how glad I would be if I were picked for the New Zealand tour. I had been taught throughout that one must not seek favours in any walk of life.
I was confident that if my form was good, and if I could show signs of promise, my superiors would do me justice. In our military sporting arena, I could hardly see any nepotism, favouritism or corruption in any sphere.
Therefore, with the greatest of zeal and enthusiasm, I played in regimental hockey and also took part in the native army hockey tournament which was the blue riband of Indian military hockey.
It was a great day for me when my Commanding Officer called me and said: "Boy, you are to go to New Zealand." I was dumbfounded, and did not know what to reply. All I did was to click my heels snappily, give as smart a salute as I possibly could, and beat a hasty retreat. Once out of sight of the officer, I ran like a hare to reach my barracks and communicated the good news to my fellow soldiers. And what a reception they gave me!
I lost no time in getting prepared for the trip. I was not a rich man, my earnings as a sepoy being only a few rupees a month. My parents were not rich either. All thoughts of outfitting and equipping myself in the proper manner for an overseas tour of this nature had to be given up for want of sufficient resources. I clothed myself as inexpensively as possible, and my main personal outfit was my military kit.
Nevertheless I was quite happy. All the members of the team, quite a few of whom were Other Ranks like me, thought that it was a military expedition and not a hockey tour, and that we must move about, feel and think like a soldier. We enjoyed every bit of the tour. We never looked for luxuries or comforts or the best of hotels or the best of everything.
We sailed from Colombo some time in April 1926 and it was a very quite send-off. We reached New Zealand in early May. We played our first match as far as I can recollect on May 13, and our last match around two months later on July 17.
This was the first time that an Indian hockey team, more or less representing the country, had travelled abroad. Our performances on and off the field created a great impression throughout the Dominion, and wherever we went we received nothing but the greatest hospitality and kindness.
As soldiers, particularly those belonging to the Other Ranks, it was a great experience for us. Prior to this tour we could never conceive of being feted and entertained at private houses and public functions in such a glorious and enjoyable manner. We were made heroes, and on my part, if I may put it quite modestly, I proved myself a great success and left behind a great impression.
Those who travelled with me to New Zealand subsequently in 1935 will bear me out when I say that although it was nine years since I last visited that country, very few people had forgotten me. Wherever I went, my old friends and acquaintances came to meet me, and some even travelled long distances.
I still remember two ladies who travelled all the way to Auckland from New Plymouth to see me play. They told me they could never forget my dribbling and wizardry with the stick. I do not say this with any intention of showing off, but only to impress upon the readers that during the 1926 Indian Army tour, we did leave behind a great impression as hockey players and as gentlemen.
We started our tour from the northern part of North Island and made our way down to the southernmost point of North Island, Wellington, winning all our matches by handsome margins. Wellington is one of the most important hockey playing centres in New Zealand, and we played on its magnificent cricket and rugger ground. To the New Zealander, rugby football is a second religion.
Concluding our engagements in North Island, we crossed over to South Island and proceeded to win all our matches comfortably, except against Canterbury at Christchurch. That was a very close match, and at times I felt that we were possibly going to meet our Waterloo. We fought every inch of it remembering all the time that India's hockey colours must not be lowered. We just won the match by the odd goal in three.
In our first test match against New Zealand at Christchurch, we won by 5 goals to 2. I must say that the New Zealanders put up a game fight, and it was our perfect teamwork, superior dribbling and better marksmanship that gave us victory.
After this match we left South Island and returned to North Island. We met our Waterloo in the second test. That was our one and only one defeat throughout the entire tour. We lost to New Zealand by 3 goals to 4. That was a day when everything seemed to go wrong for us. Ground conditions were bad, but I offer no excuse for our defeat; our opponents played very well.
I have heard of Maori tapu and African voodoo and juju. I am beginning to suspect that some good old Maori, just for variety in our long spell of victories, chose to cast a tapu on our team.
We were a fairly tired lot when the last whistle blew. That evening we had a date at some public function, but the defeat sat heavily on us. We all felt in our hotel that we had returned from a funeral after burying a dear and loved friend.
It appeared to me that the New Zealanders had by then sized up our strength. They must have followed our style of play, our weakness and our strengths, and used their knowledge to their advantage. The third and last test was a drawn game, with each side netting one goal each. This means that in the test series the honours were even.
Overall we played 21 matches in our New Zealand tour of which we won 18, drew 2 and lost 1. We scored 192 goals and had only 24 goals scored against us.
No account of my first New Zealand tour would be complete if I fail to mention the grand play of New Zealand's captain Norman Jacobsen. I met Norman again in 1935 at Wellington, but this time he was not a hockey player but a radio commentator and journalist. Norman was a fine fellow and a great player, and had he been in India, he would surely have played in better company.
After my return from New Zealand I found that the trip had put me in the limelight. The press and the people started talking about me. My superior officers and colleagues told me occasionally that I had a big hockey career ahead of me.
I was very pleased, but being a person of a quiet nature, even my jubilation had to be kept in the background. There were many occasions when I found my admirers talking about me in the military cantonments and army quarters. I took the first opportunity to be away from such discussions and gossip. I hated it, to put it bluntly. I always felt that a man is essentially a man and it was unbecoming of him to show off and to make others feel that there was snobbery in him.
Immediately after my return from New Zealand, I was made a Lance Naik. I felt very proud of it. This was, in a way, a reward for a successful tour of New Zealand, but let nobody get the idea that it was common in the Indian military to give promotions to ranks based on success in the sporting fields.
Back home from New Zealand and back to the hard military life, I forgot hockey for a pretty long time. In the military circles, they felt that we had a good holiday and should now tackle the arrears of work. The hard military life with occasional facilities for sport but no holiday to go home and meet the family made me feel very lonely at times.
But even then I did not forget my hockey. The success in New Zealand gave me tremendous inspiration and in my heart of hearts I felt that the forecasts about me might prove successful, and there should be no slackness on my part. Therefore, at odd moments in the barracks, even all by myself with just the hockey stick and ball, I kept myself very fit.
Major Dhyan Singh, Major Manna Singh and General (later Field Marshal) Cariappa in 1950 in Delhi