Men’s Hockey World Cup Special
In his palmy days Rajinder Singh (better known as Rajinder Singh Senior) used to pack quite a punch with his penalty corner hits on grass as well as on Astroturf. At the 1982 Bombay World Cup (the last occasion when the World Cup was held on grass), the sturdy right full-back achieved a rare feat of being the only Indian to be the top goal-scorer of the Men’s Hockey World Cup, slamming 12 goals all of which from short corners.
Rajinder, who played for India from 1976 to 1983, was consistency-personified at the 1982 Bombay World Cup scoring in literally every match. He scored a splendid second-half hat-trick in India’s 6-2 win over Malaysia after they had trailed 1-2 at half-time. He scored in the opening minute of play against the Netherlands in the next game – a game where India held a cosy 2-0 lead only to go down narrowly amidst a Dutch second-half resilience. The 1980 Moscow Olympian fullback scored a double in India’s 7-2 win over Soviet Union and subsequently came up with another brace in their 4-2 win over England.
The only match Rajinder failed to score was the crucial concluding pool game against Australia which India lost 1-2 – actually he scored a late goal to help India equalise but the Argentinian umpire disallowed the goal. “I still remember we needed a draw against Australia to move ahead of the Netherlands and reach the semifinals alongside the Kookaburras. It was a tight game where the first half ended goalless. India took the lead early in the second half via Ravinder Pal, but Aussie stalwart Craig Davies converted a penalty corner to restory parity. Aussies went ahead via Peter Haselhurst with seven minutes left for the final hooter and I fired home a shortie with two minutes left but the umpire from Argentina disallowed the goal stating that the ball had touched above the board onto the net,” Rajinder traces the memories in a chat with Hockey Passion.
He scored his second hat-trick of the 1982 World Cup against New Zealand 3-2 in the crossover match and added one more to his tally in the fifth-place classification tie against Soviet Union, which the hosts won 5-1. Rajinder, who turned out for Railways at the domestic circuit, recounts the 1982 World Cup atmosphere. “The Wankhede Stadium used to be overflowing with spectators during India’s matches – I think the seating capacity in those days used to be in excess of 40,000. We had a great team under the captaincy of Surjit Singh and were looking to make a podium finish but the defeat at the hands of Australia killed off our aspirations,” he quips.
Interestingly, Surjit Singh himself was a great exponent of taking penalty corners and yet it was Rajinder Singh, who was shouldering much of the short corner responsibilities in the 1982 World Cup. “Surjit Singh is a great captain – despite being one of the finest short corner hitters, he asked me to take the penalty corners simply because he felt that I was in fine PC form in that World Cup and when a crucial situation came up, Surjit would ask me to take the shorties. Having said that Surjit also scored three PC goals in that World Cup,” says the 64-year-old former stalwart.
The former international also celebrated his 24th birthday during the 1982 World Cup. “We lost the semifinal-reaching opportunity with our loss to Australia but it happened to be my birthday. We stayed at Hotel President in Colaba where the Pakistan team also stayed and I cut my birthday cake at the hotel in the evening,” he signs off.
For the record India finished fifth in the 1982 World Cup when they looked good enough side to go beyond them. No Indian has been able to match Rajinder’s feat of being the top goal-scorer of the Men’s World Cup so far, where it is a regular feature to witness Netherlands players emerge as the top scorer in most World Cups.