Stick artist leaves the stage

Stick artist leaves the stage

One of the greatest players of all time, Mohd Shahid was India's link to their glorious past

Stick artist leaves the stage

The wizard of Indian hockey whose exceptional dribbling skills left the opposition and spectators in awe during the 1980s, could not dodge death on Wednesday morning.

Mohammad Shahid, the former India captain, passed away a bit too soon at 56. The hockey legend breathed his last at Medanta Hospital in Gurgaon. He is survived by wife Parveen and twin children Mohammad Saif and Heena.

 Shahid’s illness and treatment has been in spotlight in the last fortnight ever since he was flown in from his abode, the holy city of Varanasi, earlier this month with serious liver and kidney ailment. Ardent appeals for financial help followed before government pitched in for the legend. He was in coma in the last few days.

 A man of humble beginnings, Shahid was a livewire with a hockey stick in hand. He could explode into speed at will. The centre-forward played a key role in India winning the gold in the 1980 Olympics, the last of the golden generation. He had a silver (1982) and a bronze (1986) from the Asian Games. He went on to represent India in two more Olympic Games (1984 Los Angeles), 1988 (Seoul).

The intense rivalry that India had with Pakistan on the hockey field was at its peak during the 80s and left everyone mesmerised. Shahid was one who was feared and equally revered by the great Pakistan players, including Hassan Sardar.

 “He was one of the pillars of the 1980 Olympics team that won the gold. He was definitely the most influential player of his era,” says M K Kaushik, who was also part of the 1980 gold medal winning team.

 “He was the best among all of us and his strokes were near-perfect. The opposition would be making strategies to stop Shahid. He was a lefty and had the knack of running past any defence. The half-stick stroke that Dhanraj Pillay used to good effect later on was his innovation. He was a very jovial man and a good team-man too,” Kaushik told Deccan Herald.

For former India player Jagbir Singh, Shahid was an icon in their alma mater, the Sports College, Lucknow.

“He showed how a forward can put a defender to shame. His play was too creative and his skills cannot be matched. He was simply a god-gifted talent,” recalled Jagbir.

“For us at the Lucknow hostel, he was an icon we looked up to. Players used to emulate his body language, his training methods, his mannerisms, the way he used to speak to media. He was always full of jokes, pranks, he could even light up a gathering by singing ghazals.”

It was the times when hockey was not a secondary sport to cricket. “Shahid was at the the very top of world hockey. Pakistan players were scared of him. They have gone on record on saying that they were threatened by his presence. Shahid was like a child on the field, always hunting and fighting for the ball,” Jagbir said.

Shahid was also a family man to the core. It was, perhaps, one of the reasons he preferred to immerse himself in his own world once his hockey days were over. He was a Sports Officer with the Indian Railways in Varanasi.  In 1986 Asian Games and 1988 Olympics we were together. He was emotional about his family. But when on the pitch, he would have forgotten everything. Probably that’s why he never came out of Varanasi once his playing days were over,” Jagbir said.

Kaushik felt that Shahid, perhaps, was too much of a genius to take up coaching. “Not everyone has a temperament to coach. Probably we were mediocre players and therefore we could understand even average players. He was a genius, too great a player and not every great player would have the temperament to understand average players.”

 Towards the end, Shahid found himself amidst hockey again, away from his beloved Varanasi. Members of the Indian Rio-bound team met him at the hospital and gifted him the team jersey in an emotional gesture. “In fact, he wanted to have an academy in Varanasi. It was his dream and we should fulfil it,” said Kaushik.