They were the two sides of an unstoppable attacking duo that graced the Indian blues in the 80s – Mohammed Shahid and Zafar Iqbal. After Shahid's untimely demise yesterday in Gurgaon, Zafar Iqbal relived the wonderful moments he shared with his attacking partner and friend.
Iqbal recalled the times that the two had spent on the field and the aftermath of Shahid's retirement, the highs and the lows in an interview to ToI, . Iqbal had visited Shahid at the bedside multiple times over Shahid's 20-day ordeal until yesterday.
Speaking about yesterday, Iqbal said, “Only yesterday I had gone to Aligarh, when suddenly I got a call that (Mohammed) Shahid's condition had worsened.
The doctor wasn't allowing people to meet him as there were a number of visitors but Shahid's family instructed the doctor to allow me inside the ICU. Apparently, each day Shahid would ask, 'Aaj Zafar nahin aaye?' When I met Shahid, he waved his hand in his trademark style. 'Are you playing golf ?' he asked me. 'Yes,' I said and held his hand and told him, ' Aaj bhi tumhara haath mazboot hain. Masha Allah. Yahan pe bhi dribbling maaroge, na (Will you dribble your way out of this too)?' 'Haan, Partner,' iss sab sey nikal kar aaonga. Don't worry,' he said, But I was shocked when I saw him. He was pale, had yellow eyes. Not just the regular yellow, but jaise kisi ne paint kara ho, itna peela... I was very worried. I couldn't tell him but his condition was critical.”
The two had been part of the last of India's greatest times in world hockey – the 1980 Olympic medal that has proved to be India's last so far, the 1982 and 1986 Asian Games.
Recalling their times on the field, Iqbal said, “I can't forget the times spent with him. We were together in the Indian team for seven years. He is one of the best players India has ever produced. There is no doubt about that. He was a great dribbler, what stickwork. He was a very sharp and intelligent player. He was very down to earth as well.
I do remember his performances in various tournaments, - Olympics, Asian Games or World Cup.
Speaking specifically about the 1980 Games, Iqbal said, “When I think about it now, if Shahid hadn't played as well as he did in 1980, we would have been in great trouble. Against Spain and Poland (both pool matches were drawn 2-2, while India beat Spain 4-3 in the final) and Soviet Union (which India won 4-2), he was simply brilliant. They just couldn't understand what he was doing. His turning was extraordinary. Entire defences would be wrong-footed. He was a genius,” reported ToI.
Iqbal also recollected the chemistry the duo enjoyed saying, “The understanding was almost telepathic -how to receive the ball, how to dodge and other tricks of the game. We instinctively developed them together.
He had great speed with the ball and had tremendous control. He wasn't afraid of any team -Australia or Germany, he never bothered about that. He played freely. That was the beauty of his game.
Shahid was captain of the national team in its most tumultuous times and right at the start of its downfall in the second half of the 80s. Shahid also had to face great personal tragedy in the death of his daughter.
Speaking about it, Iqbal said, “He was shaken by his daughter's death. That was when he was at the peak of his career, I was there with him all the time but he never came out of it.
Goodbye, Partner. Rest in peace.”