Mohammed Shahid’s stickwork defied description, it was sheer enjoyment. He knew by the time he left the hockey scene that the game did not need the skills he had so well exhibited out in the field with his truly breathtaking feints.
Everyone hoped the mercurial Shahid should and would live longer than mere 56 years. That was not to be and he breathed his last on Wednesday.
Shahid never wanted to leave his Varanasi and the Ganga and relocate to a bigger city where he would have had much better opportunities to showcase his game.
He was a man of small pleasures enjoying with his family and close friends. When he had to leave his beloved Varanasi, he had to be airlifted to Delhi for specialized treatment at a major corporate hospital in Gurgaon. But, it was too late and only his mortal remains returned to his hometown.
It is always difficult to compare stalwarts of different eras. People who watched Dhyan Chand thought he was rightly called the wizard and then came the Balbirs, Gentles and Udhams.
In the 1960s, Inamur Rehman looked a magician with the stick. There are those who swear by some other stalwarts from their regions. Uttar Pradesh’s own K.D. Singh “Babu” was one of them and he and another Olympian, Jhaman Lal Sharma, spotted Shahid’s outstanding abilities.
When Shahid arrived, the debate got more exciting though most agreed that his splendid dribbling was something truly special. His contemporaries in the Indian team as well as his opponents watched him in awe trying to match his speed and skills.
Zafar Iqbal thinks no end of his pal. The two looked to be made for each other. They made hockey so simple and pleasurable pursuit — they were a class act. It would be interesting to imagine if only hockey continued to be played on natural grass how anyone would have coped with Shahid’s brilliance. His stickwork would have been a great sight.
When people talk of India losing its hockey skills, they actually mean that there are no Shahids in the game. He would surely have been a great player to watch even in this hit- and-run era where they say the third touch with stick has to result in an attempt at the target.
His fellow-players have paid rich tribute to Shahid’s selfless attitude on the field. Some felt he was such a nice human being that he did not like to embarrass the goalkeeper by scoring himself. He always looked for someone around to do the finishing even when he was in a one-to-one situation. He enjoyed more in creating a chance for his teammates to score.
His markers in the opposing defence knew they needed at least three people to police him and even then they were not sure of keeping him quiet, Shahid could outwit them all. At times he looked ambitexterous in his movements with the ball glued to his stick, leaving his markers look silly.
Shahid, like most hockey players, was humble and never spoke in anger. He would softly differ with the kind of hockey being played today. Unlike Inam, who refused to watch hockey even on television, Shahid watched it but expressed unhappiness with the style of play that is being passed off as hockey.
Yes, Shahid, perhaps, was the last of his tribe and as Dilip Tirkey, the former India defender and captain, said that it’s time the authorities thought of every deserving sportsperson, not only cricketers.
Shahid addressed his teammates and friends as “partner” and all of them are today missing a gem of a partner both on and off the field.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)