Atif's place in hockey history is assured (Tribute)
Brig. Manzoor Hussain Atif, who died battling cancer in Rawalpindi Saturday at the age of 80, belonged to a bygone era of hockey when India-Pakistan matches were classic exhibitions of the game; when play spread out from wing to wing, when wingers sent in spanking centres for the inner forwards to provide the finishing touches to moves after faking their way past doughty defenders with deceptive feints.
A tall, well-built man, Atif was one such defender who foiled Indian raids on the Pakistani goal with firm, no-nonsense tackles and clearances. His death will be mourned by hockey followers all over the world, including Indian players whose moves he frustrated on the pitch.
For all the fierce rivalry between India and Pakistan and in spite of the wars of 1965 and 1971, hockey matches between teams of the two countries were, after all, only games marked by a lot of banter once they were over.
A subaltern who played left full back for Pakistan when they won the Olympic gold medal for the first time in the 1960 Rome games, Brigadier Atif spent time in a prisoner-of-war camp in India after Lt.Gen A. A. K. Niazi's Pakistani army surrendered at Dhaka in 1971. But a few of his Indian hockey friends, at some risk to themselves, would sneak in for clandestine visits, passing on gifts of food and beverages. Such are the bonds which grow on sports grounds. Wars be damned.
Major Atif, as captain of the Pakistan team in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, had a hand, rather a foot, in the gold medal that India won there. Atif on the goal line stopped a penalty corner shot by Prithipal Singh, resulting in a penalty stroke, and Mohinder Lal duly converted it to win the day for India. Both Prithipal and Mohinder, too, are no more.
After his playing career was over, Atif distinguished himself as a hockey administrator, in his own country as well as internationally. He was secretary of the Pakistan Hockey Federation when his country won the Bombay world cup in 1982.
Atif was a firm believer in teamwork. Asked who were star players in the team that he accompanied to Bombay (now Mumbai), Atif replied, 'No star players; we are here with a star team which will win the world cup with collective effort.' True to Atif's prediction, Pakistan won the cup with collective effort. But to state the truth, that team had a few individuals who could win matches for their country on their own. Centre-forward Hassan Sardar for one.
Harbinder Singh, centre-forward of the Indian team that won the Tokyo Olympics gold medal, remembers Atif as a full-back difficult to beat. With Munir Dar on Atif's right, Pakistan had a rocklike last line of defence. Harbinder also has praise for Atif's qualities as an officer and a gentleman. The brigadier's place in hockey history is assured.
(K. Datta is a vetern sports journalist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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