Casting an expert eye at Britain's select team last month, 67-year-old Arnold Hands, a peer among the world's field hockey coaches, announced, "We can win the hockey at Melbourne." Coach Hands would probably be the first to admit he was whistling slightly in the dark. While the Britons sharpened themselves with slam-bang practice games in these last critical weeks, in the Punjab of India 32-year-old Balbir Singh (see page 82), a fleet-footed police inspector with the soft, kind eyes of a Redbone Hound, was out of bed every morning at 4:30, running and rope skipping before putting in a day of police work and practice with India's Olympic team. Balbir Singh played for India in the 1948 Games; in 1952 he was the scourge of rival goalies. Three goals by Singh put Britain out in the semifinals, and five goals by Singh beat Holland in the finals. The passing combination of Balbir Singh at center forward and Udham Singh, another veteran of the Helsinki Games, at inside left should again be the wonder of the hockey competition at Melbourne.
The U.S. passed up the 1952 competition but this year fields a team selected from the loosely knit hockey federation of the East Coast. Its chances of winning are almost nil. The Britons, who developed the modern game of field hockey about 85 years ago and are anxious to get back to the top, are fielding their best team ever. Pakistan also figures to be as good as in 1952 or better. If Britain, Pakistan or any other country should upset India, it would bring to an end the most spectacular monopoly of the whole Olympic Games. Since first sending a team in 1928, India has won five straight titles, never losing a match. In the past five Olympic competitions India has scored 138 points to their opponents' seven.
The 14 countries opposing India at Melbourne, generally speaking, now play the game more the Indian way, moving the ball fast through tight pass patterns, both in direct attack from forward to forward and in triangular patterns from forward to halfback to forward. But no one yet passes so fast or enjoys such a command over the ball as the Indians. The stick work and close passing of the soft-wristed Indians is still envied by all pretenders to the title. "There is no sense chasing the ball over the field like a stupid donkey," says Balbir Singh. "The ball must run intelligently for you. I shall do my best at Melbourne and leave the rest to God." This year the best of Balbir Singh and his Indian team should again be good enough.