In a time when cricket is the most celebrated sport in India, we often forget our triumphant achievements in hockey that overshadow our cricketing wins. 8 gold, 1 silver, and 2 bronze medals at the Olympics; 1975 World Cup win; and 3 gold, 9 silver, and 3 bronze medals at the Asian Games.
But this success didn’t come overnight. Our first true moment of glory came in 1928, when we won our first Olympic gold. It kick-started an era of Indian domination of the international circuit for the next five decades. There might have been a drop in our performance levels in the last few years, but we are still among the top teams in the world.
Our glittering and successful history in hockey has produced some remarkable players over the course of time. Let us look at our 10 greatest hockey players who made the world take notice and be mesmerised by their skills.
India’s 10 Best Hockey Players
10. Dhyan Chand
One of the greatest hockey players of all time, Dhyan Chand had the world at his feet when he burst onto the scene. After making his mark in the 1928 Olympics where he scored 14 goals to help India win the gold, he went on to craft his way to being one of the best players the world has ever seen.
In the next Olympic, Chand was unstoppable as he scored 12 goals, that helped India retain the first spot. India made it a hat-trick of gold medal wins at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The wizard Dhyan Chand dazzled with his magic again with 13 goals.
Dhyan Chand’s contribution went beyond that – he made people fall in love with hockey. Whenever Chand took to the field, all eyes were on him – it was the best sight in the world. Dhyan Chand scored over 400 goals in his career, and left a legacy that seems very hard to match.
9. Roop Singh
The brother of Legendary Dhyan Chand, Roop Singh might not have made the headlines as often as his elder sibling, but he was a brilliant player in his own right.
While Dhyan Chand took all the limelight, Roop went about scoring goals in a quieter fashion, though his brilliance was not always away from the spotlight. In 1932, Roop Singh outscored his brother at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, this was his first Olympic Games participation, Roop Singh was in red hot streak as he scored a ridiculous 13 goals in two games. In the final game against USA, he alone scored 10 goals. Yes, a freaking 10!
In the 1936 Olympics, Roop Singh was instrumental in India winning the gold in Berlin. He scored 9 goals and was the only Indian player to score in all the games. He might not have been as popular as his brother, but Roop Singh always showed his value on the pitch.
8. Balbir Singh Sr.
What Dhyan Chand was to the Indian hockey team before independence, Balbir Singh was to the team after 1947. He was one of India’s key figures during their run of three consecutive gold medal wins in 1948, 1952, and 1956.
Also known as the modern day Dhyan Chand, Balbir is often regarded as one of the greatest centre-forwards that the game has ever seen. He was lethal in front of goal, and would single-handedly carry the team. His Olympic record for most goals scored by an individual in an Olympic men’s hockey final remains unbeaten. Singh set this record when he scored five goals in India’s 6–1 victory over the Netherlands in the gold medal game of the 1952 Olympic Games.
Singh was the Manager and Chief Coach of the Indian team for the 1975 Men’s Hockey World Cup triumph.
7. Udham Singh
Another of the players to win three hockey gold medals at the Olympics, Udham Singh was a solid rear-guard but also had the ability to play as the inside-forward. A player known for his finesse and fluency in his play, he was a treat to watch on the Indian side that dominated the 1950s.
He played in four Olympics – Helsinki in 1952, Melbourne in 1956, Rome 1960 and Tokyo in 1964 – and was unfortunate not to have been in five; only a finger injury stopped him playing at the 1948 games in London.
6. Leslie Claudius
Leslie Claudius, along with Udham Singh, has won the most Olympic medals (3 Gold and 1 Silver) for India. He is considered to be the best half-back in the history of the sport.
He was the first player to have represented India in four consecutive Olympics and win 100 caps. A rock at the back, Claudius was full of energy and running. A leader on the pitch, he always held the back-line together and led from the front.
5. Ajit Pal Singh
The former captain of the Indian hockey team will be recognized as amongst the most extraordinary centre-half players in the world. Ajit Pal Singh played a very prominent role in India winning their only World Cup in 1975.
Having made his debut in 1960, Ajit went on to establish himself as a key member of the squad and also went on to represent India at three Olympics. But the high in his career came in 1975, when the team he was part of scripted history to win the World Cup in 1975.
4. K D Singh Babu
Kunwar Digvijay Singh, usually known as K.D. Singh “Babu” was an Indian Hockey player who is considered to be one of the best Inside Rights that Indian Hockey has ever witnessed. He has Padma Shri in 1960 to his credit and has won gold medals in 1948 and 1952 Olympics.
He was goalkeeper of the Indian team in the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Olympics that won two gold medals and one silver medal. He was the first goalkeeper to become captain of an international hockey team and was awarded the Arjuna award and the Padma Shri by the Indian government. He was captain of the Indian team which won the gold in the 1966 Asian Games
3. Dhanraj Pillay
A modern day legend, Dhanraj Pillay has been one of the best hockey players for India. He captained the Indian team for a few years. An extremely good forward with sharp attacking attitude, he always mesmerized us with fast footwork and precision goal taking.
Pillay is the only player to have represented the country in 4 Olympics (1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004), 4 World Cups (1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002), 4 Asian Games (1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002) and 4 Champions Trophies (1995, 1996, 2002 and 2003). Under his captaincy, India won the 1998 Asian Games and 2003 Asian Cup.
2. Mohammed Shahid
He is considered to be one of the best dribblers that the game of hockey has ever seen. He was a member of the Indian team that won the gold medal at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, silver at the 1982 Asian Games and bronze at the 1986 Asian Games.
1. Shankar Laxman
Born on the 7th of July 1933, he is known as the ‘Wall of Indian Hockey’ or the ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ for his Goalkeeping Position. He led Indian Team to win the 1966 Asian games Gold. When not selected in the 1968 Olympics, he left hockey and joined the Army. His medal tally is enormous with two golds and one silver in the 1956 Melbourne, 1964 Tokyo, and 1960 Rome Olympics respectively. He won two silvers and one gold in 1958, 1962, and 1966 Asian games respectively. A Padma Shri recipient, he died aged 72 on 29th April 2006.
So, these were our picks for the best Hockey Players India has ever given to the world. It is a sad reality that many of the names present on this list have now been forgotten. We tried to add as many forgotten names in this list while maintaining the authenticity of the list. If you have any excerpts or anecdotes from watching these legends play, let us know in the Comments section.