One is not sure how many among the current hockey fraternity remembers the name of Mukhbain Singh. The Jalandhar lad had emerged as one of the principal architects of India’s bronze-winning feat at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
36 years back, Mukhbain was the cynosure of all attention as his penalty corners goals did the talking for him. The then 28-year-old fullback did not score in India’s 1-1 draw against the Netherlands in the tournament opener.
The Indian defender ensured he grabbed adequate newsprint at the Munich Olympics, scoring thrice in India’s highly impressive 5-0 victory over Great Britain.
“I have fond memories of that game. Back then, we used to bank on direct hits sounding the cage boards as balls hitting the goal netting were disallowed. Only rebound hits can strike the goal netting for a legitimate goal. I scored three goals, and we were up 4-0 at half-time, and the match was firmly in our grasp when we strode out for the second half,” the 73-year-old recalls in an exclusive chat with The Bridge.
Mukhbain was not done yet. He became the first Indian men’s player to score a hat-trick against Australia in any international competition, and there was no bigger platform than the Olympics.
Mukhbain was in his elements notching up the hat-trick as India vanquished the Kookaburras 3-1. “Australia is a quality side, and I was happy to contribute to my team’s win. Of course, being the first to rack up a hat-trick against Australia game gave me a lofty feeling. I still cherish that hat-trick as it is not often you see teams score hat-tricks against Australia," quips the soft-spoken former Indian Railway player.
Mukhbain was not the only one to make his Olympic debut – Ashok Kumar - son of legend Dhyan Chand, BP Govinda and Michael Kindo made their Olympic debuts. “Ashok scored in our 1-1 draw against the Netherlands, while Kindo and Govinda also play their part to near perfection,” the former fullback recalls.
Mukhbain made his senior international debut in 1966 in a tourney in Hamburg, Germany and was a standby for the 1966 Bangkok Asian Games. 1966 was also the year he joined the Indian Railways. Mukhbain featured in the 1970 Asian Games before he made a statement of sorts at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
After his goal-scoring heroics against Great Britain and Australia, Mukhbain scored twice in India’s hard-fought 3-2 win over Kenya, who had quite a few India-origin players in its ranks.
Although Mukhbain did not score in India’s 2-2 draw against Poland, 8-0 win over Mexico and a 3-2 win over New Zealand and in the 0-2 loss to Pakistan in the semifinals, he undoubtedly reserved his best for India’s bronze medal play-off tie against the Netherlands.
There, he scored the match-winner to ensure bronze for his country. “The Dutch are a top side, and it was an evenly contested match. We leaked a goal and then Govinda equalised as the scoreline read 1-1 at half-time. It so happened that I scored the match-winner in the second half to amass nine goals in the tournament,” he says with a glint of pride.
The downfall of Mukhbhain Singh
Mukhbain was never picked for the national team after the 1972 Olympics, and he knows the reasons. The then IHF President Ashani Kumar was keen to have more Punjab Police players in the national team, and he was nursing a grudge against me because I had joined Railways and not Punjab Police against his wish,” he says with a tinge of sadness.
Mukhbain was, however, elated to see an Indian coach the national men’s team. “Harendra is a good guy, and I’m sure the team will do well under his guidance. When you have foreign coaches, the language barrier is a big issue and now with a desi coach communication will not be an issue anymore. I expect the Indian team to fare well in the upcoming Asiad and the World Cup,” he says.
The former defender has had his tough days – he battled against prostate cancer and is now fast recovering from it.
“I haven’t got any financial support from any quarter for my prostate cancer treatment. I thought I deserved it, but then even greats like Dhyan Chand, Shankar Laxman among others have been meted out such step-motherly treatment; this is nothing new in Indian hockey,” he concludes with a feeling of being let down by powers-that-be.