The Indian men’s hockey team’s overall record in the prestigious and now-defunct FIH Champions Trophy has been far from impressive. But the 1982 Champions Trophy held at Amstelveen, Netherlands will always be remembered fondly in Indian hockey – it was the first time that India had contrived a podium finish – a bronze after it got the better of arch-rivals Pakistan 5-4 in a magnificent come-from-behind victory. The importance of this bronze medal feat can be underpinned by the fact that it took 34 years for the Blueshirts to win a Champions Trophy medal when they won the silver in the 2016 edition in London and pulled off an encore in the 2018 edition in Breda.
India was pushed on the backfoot by Pakistan, who scored thrice in the first 16 minutes of play. The stage was set for Rajinder to bring his penalty corner hitting prowess to the fore. He converted two short corners in a span of five minutes as India went into half-time trailing the Greenshirts 2-3. “It was a match in which no quarter was asked and none gave. We were pushed to the wall by Pakistan’s three-goal blitz. We earned as many as seven penalty corners and I could convert two just before half-time and one in the second half to level the scores 3-3. I still recall one of my short corner hits that resulted in a stroke, which was converted by Gurmil Singh – skipper Surinder Singh Sodhi scored the other goal,” recalls Rajinder Singh in a chat with Hockey Passion.
The 63-year-old former fullback and national men’s team coach, who was India’s top goal-scorer at the 1982 Bombay World Cup traced memories of how a Pakistani hockey stick manufacturer presented him with three sticks for his superb showing in the 1982 World Cup. “A Pakistan hockey stick manufacturer gifted me three sticks for my exploits in the Bombay World Cup and it so transpired that I scored my hat-trick against Pakistan with one of these sticks,” says the 1980 Moscow Olympian sporting a grin.
The India-Pakistan match is a high-intensity match but the bonhomie between the two sides was never missing. Rajinder recounts how he used to engage in a bout of bantering with then Pakistan captain and good friend Samiullah Khan. “Samiullah used to rush during penalty corners and he keeps telling me that he won’t allow me to score off short corners. But in that tie, while I taking one of the penalty corners, it hit the wrist of Samiullah and he had to leave the pitch with a fracture. After the match, he jocularly said ‘you beat me all ends up today’. My hat-trick performance will remain special because it was the first time India won a Champions Trophy medal,” observes Rajinder, who made more than 150 international appearances and scored close to 70 international goals.