Hockey World Cup: Hockey legend Hasan Sardar takes a look back at his friends and foes
Pakstan's '82 World Cup-winning stalwart Hasan Sardar remembers pals Joaquim, Merwyn & Somaya
The calibre of a top player comes shining through when a beaten opponent salutes him. Pakistan hockey legend Hasan Sardar ran riot through most defences in the 1980s to emerge the world's best centre-forward. But there was one team, and a particular set of players in that line-up, who worked hard to combat the mercurial striker, half succeeded but praise him nevertheless. Team India's Bombay boys Joaquim Carvalho, Merwyn Fernandis and MM Somaya were men on a mission in the mid-80s.
Sardar recollected how the trio troubled him and his team back then. "Carvalho was this big guy who was always after me and would tackle me by hook or by crook. Banda jaye par ball na jaye [let the man go but not the ball] is something we always said, but it was Carvalho who practised it. He had a brilliant reach and would block me on either side with his tackles. Merwyn was an inside-ride and used to put some brilliant diagonal balls beating our defence hands down. And Somaya was this sturdy right half, who nullified our left flank," Sardar, here with the Pakistan team as manager for the ongoing World Cup at the Kalinga Stadium, told mid-day yesterday.
In the line of fire
While Merwyn and Somaya's skills put indirect pressure on Sardar as he had to score more consistently given Pakistan's defence and forwardline were thwarted from the two respectively, Joaquim recalled how he was directly in the line of fire. "Coach Balkishen Singh had introduced the 4-4-2 formation, breaking away the traditional 5-3-2 style because he felt that we needed an extra defensive midfielder to counter tough teams. Pakistan was one such team and as I was the defensive centre-half, my job was to hold Hasan. I have no shame in admitting that while I did try to tackle him by fair means, I also used my God-given big built to stop him at all costs, sometimes even bringing him down," Joaquim told mid-day over the phone from Mumbai yesterday.
Merwyn recalled the sole point of discussion at team meetings before those Indo-Pak clashes. "Hasan ko rokna hai [we have to stop Hasan]. That's all we would talk about, and as a team we would all be given roles so as to try and directly or indirectly make Hasan's job difficult. My role was to hold things on their left flank by being the team's first line of defence. I tried hard to achieve it," said Merwyn.
Hasan Sardar in Bhubaneswar yesterday
Somaya was among the brains, who plotted the trap for Sardar but admitted it didn't always come off. "I've travelled nine times to Pakistan to play hockey. We used to have bilateral series in India, Pakistan and even in places like Dubai. So, we knew how troublesome Hasan was and tried to make plans against him but he was exceptional. He had a unique low crouching style of moving with the ball that made it very difficult to dislodge him. Also, he was always perfectly placed in the centre channel of the field, so whenever those crosses came in, he was there to meet them," said Somaya.
So what was it like to tackle Hasan Sardar? Joaquim explained: "It was a near-impossible task but I managed it on a few occasions by stick or trick. I was hard on Hasan quite a few times but the great man never retaliated even once. In fact, that's how we forged a brilliant friendship over the years.
'Huge respect for Hasan'
We three have huge respect for Hasan not only for his hockey skills but also his kind heart. Once, during a series-decider in Karachi, India were in the lead and the crowd got very unruly, so after the match, Hasan spoke to the organisers and ensured we were safely escorted out of the stadium through a different gate. On another occasion, he asked me and a few other players to promote a particular brand of Pakistani hockey sticks for a fee. We were surprised because here is a guy who I've been knocking down, and he's giving us a stick contract."
Joaquim, Merwyn and Somaya are now looking forward to travelling to Bhubaneswar on December 8 to meet their Bhaijaan from across the border. Sardar can't wait. "It will be wonderful to catch up with the Bombay boys. I'm keen to see if they are as fit as they were," he signed off.
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A look back at the World Cup that no Indian will ever forget!