Pre-Independence sporting heroes of India

first_imgIndia has been blessed with some of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen across a wide variety of sports. Cricket is arguably the most followed sport in the country ever since our dominance in field hockey faded away but even before that India had made its name in other sports like football and track and field.Before our independence in 1947, there were some athletes from India who made the country proud, especially at the Olympics. Hockey was one such sport which India dominated for over three decades, winning eight gold medals, the most by any country at the Summer Games.From 1928 to 1956, the Indian men’s hockey team remained unbeaten winning six gold medals in succession with a 30-0 unbeaten streak.Even before great sportspersons like Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, Prakash Padukone and Milkha Singh made their names in their respective sports, India had some legendary athletes in its arsenal led by the greatest hockey player to walk on this planet – Dhyan Chand.So let’s rewind the clock and take a look at five legendary Indian athletes from the pre-independence era.Norman Pritchard (Track & Field)Born to British parents in Calcutta in 1877, Norman Pritchard was the first Indian athlete to win a medal at the Olympic Games.Representing India, Pritchard participated in the men’s 200 metres, 200 metres hurdles, 110 metres hurdles, 60 metres sprint and 100 metres sprint at the 1900 Summer Games in Paris.Pritchard won silver medals in 200 metres and 200 metres hurdles, thus, becoming the first Indian and first athlete representing an Asian nation to win an Olympic medal. He had made it to the final of 110 metres hurdles, but did not finish, and also participated in the 60m and 100m sprints, in which he failed to qualify for the finals.advertisementPritchard was also an equally talented football player and is credited with scoring the first hat-trick in an open football tournament in India, for Saint Xavier’s College against Sovabazar in July 1897.He was also the secretary of the Indian Football Association from 1900 to 1902 before moving to Great Britain in 1905. Pritchard then shifted base to the United States where he adopted the name ‘Norman Trevor’ and acted in silent films in Hollywood and also appeared in several Broadway shows.Mohammed Salim (Football)Mohammed Salim was one of the greatest footballers India has ever produced. Salim was born in Calcutta in 1904 and quickly gained a name in football first joining Bowbazar and then going on to play for the B team of Mohammedan Sporting Club.Legendary sports administrator Pankaj Gupta took notice of Salim’s talent and recruited him to play for his club Sporting Union where he spent five years from 1927-31.Salim then played for East Bengal Club in 1932 before joining Aryans Club a year later. But he returned to Mohammedan SC soon after and helped the club win the prestigious Calcutta Football League title five years in a row.In 1936 Salim became the first player from India to represent a European club as he was signed by Celtic FC after a trial he gave in bare feet and in front of 1000 club members.He made a debut for Celtic in a 5-1 victory against Galston and scored a goal through penalty. He stayed at the club for a season before heading back to Mohammedan SC as he was feeling home sick. Salim was also offered a professional contract to play in Germany but he declined that as well.Vijay Merchant (Cricket)Vijay Madhavji Merchant was a revered cricketer from India in the pre-independence era. Born in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1911, Merchant was a fine right-handed batsman with a first-class average of over 71 having played 150 matches in which he amassed 13,470 runs with 45 hundreds, 11 of which were double tons.Merchant made his Test debut for India against England at the Gymkhana ground in Bombay (now Mumbai) in December, 1933. Merchant scored 23 and 30 as India lost the match by 9 wickets.Merchant loved to bat against England and in the two tours there he amassed over 4000 runs combined, which just goes to show how good he was against fast bowlers on seaming tracks. Merchant played a starring role in the Manchester Test in 1936 when he slammed 114 and added 203 runs with Mushtaq Ali (112) to help save the match as India trailed by 368 runs.Such was Merchant’s prowess with the bat that English cricketer C.B. Fry once said, “Let us paint him white and take him with us to Australia (for the Ashes) as an opener.”Throughout his career, Merchant played 10 Test matches and scored 859 runs at 47.72 with three hundreds and as many fifties. His life after retirement revolved around cricket administration, broadcasting and writing.advertisementRanjitshinghji (Cricket)The man who invented the famous leg glance and late cut, Maharaja Jam Saheb of Nawanag or Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, was probably the greatest batsman to have played cricket in the pre-independence era. He had an unorthodox in technique, had quick reflexes and he brought a new style to batting which completely revolutionised the game.Ranjitsinhji never played for India but inspired everybody back home to take up the sports across generations. He was the first Indian to play international cricket and represented England and Sussex.Ranjitsinhji made his Test debut for England against Australia in July 1896 and scored 62 and 154 not out at Manchester. From 1895 he exceeded 1000 runs in 10 successive seasons, passing 3000 in 1899 and 1900.From 1896 to 1902, Ranjitsinhji played 15 Test matches and scored 989 runs at an average of 44.95 with two hundreds and six half-centuries. He got out on a duck only two times in his career.Ranjitsinhji led Sussex for five years from 1899-1903 and his name became synonymous with the club. First-class cricket saw Ranjitsinhji score 24692 runs in 307 matches at an average of 56.37 with 72 hundreds along with that he also took 133 wickets.The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) named its oldest first-class cricket tournament – Ranji Trophy – in honour of Maharaja Ranjitsinhji. Ranji Trophy began in 1934 and is still India’s premier domestic tournament.Dhyan Chand (Hockey)He is the greatest hockey player ever, period!Unlike in other sports where people compare players from different era’s but still find it hard to pronounce one true champion, fortunately that is not the case with hockey.Ask any field hockey player from the current or past generations and they will have just one name in mind when it comes to the greatest of all time – Dhyan Chand.Born in Uttar Pradesh, Chand played a starring role when India completed a hat-trick of Olympic gold medals in 1928, 1932 and 1936 in field hockey during the nation’s most dominant phase in the sport.Known for his extraordinary goal-scoring feats and ball control, Chand scored over 400 international goals in his career. He was conferred the Padma Bhushan award after he retired from the Army with the rank of Major in 1956.Talks are ongoing for the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, to be conferred upon Dhyan Chand, especially after cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar received the honour in 2013.Of all the matches that he played during his 22-year long career (1926-48), Dhyan Chand considers the 1933 Beighton Cup final between his home team Jhansi Heroes and Calcutta Customs as the best one.”If anybody asked me which was the best match that I played in, I will unhesitatingly say that it was the 1933 Beighton Cup final between Calcutta Customs and Jhansi Heroes. I had a team which was determined to do or die. It was a great match, full of thrills, and it was just opportunism that gave us the victory,” the legend was quoted.advertisementLegend has it that Adolf Hitler was so impressed by Dhyan Chand’s wizardry with the stick in the 1936 Berlin Olympics that he offered him German citizenship and the post of Colonel in his army, which the Indian declined with a smile.Dhyan Chand’s younger brother Roop Singh was also a legendary hockey player and was part of the 1932 and 1936 Olympic gold-medal winning teams. Roop Singh and Dhyan Chand were labelled the hockey twins after the duo scored a staggering 24 out of the 35 goals in the 1932 Los Angeles Games against Japan and USA with the younger brother scoring 13 goals while Chand scored 11.last_img read more