The bygone era: Another link gone as hockey icon Keshav Datt passes away

·4-min read

New Delhi, Jul 7 (PTI) A man of many talents but one passion. Keshav Datt was the last of connects to the golden era of Indian hockey which has attained mythical status over the years.

A two-time Olympic gold-medallist (1948, London and 1952, Helsinki), the 95-year-old Datt died after battling age-related ailments in Kolkata on Wednesday, survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter, all of whom are based outside India.

Aside from being excellent with a hockey stick in his hands, Datt was also a badminton player of credible ability and a professional tea taster in his time away from sports.

Born on December 29, 1925 in Lahore, Datt made the 'City of Joy' his home after the partition. And he refused to leave it for anything or anyone, including his wife who wanted him to move to Europe several decades ago.

Datt would have none of it. She left and he continued to romance hockey till he was into his 80s, taking part in veterans' tournaments in Kolkata.

'He was a very simple man and a kind person who was passionate about hockey. He loved his country very much. It is sad that he died a lonely death,' Gurbux Singh, member of India's 1964 Olympic gold-medal winning side, told PTI recalling the legend.

'Since the day I met him I saw him all alone. His wife settled abroad long back and wanted him to come along with her but he refused, saying 'I am a true Indian I won't leave my country'. Such was his patriotism.' Datt played alongside greats like the late trio of Balbir Singh Sr, Leslie Claudius, and Jaswant Singh Rajput among others. His demise marked the end of a glorious era in Indian hockey's history.

'I didn't play alongside him but played against him in many domestic tournaments. He was one of our heroes growing up who inspired me to take up hockey seriously,' Gurbux said.

A formidable half-back, he was a part of India's historic feat at the 1948 Olympics where the country beat home team Britain 4-0 at the Wembley Stadium in London to win the first gold Independence.

Before the 1948 Olympics, Datt toured East Africa under the leadership of the iconic Major Dhyan Chand in 1947.

Datt was also a part of the Indian team at the 1952 Helsinki Games, where they beat Netherlands 6-1 in the summit clash to become the Olympic champions for the fifth consecutive time.

While he was a right back in the 1948 Olympics, in 1952 he took the role of a centre half.

Datt would have been a triple Olympic gold-medallist but he couldn't play in the 1956 Melbourne Games for lack of leave approval from his employers.

'Datt used to work for British tea trading and manufacturing company Brooke Bond as a tea taster. He was a certain selection for the 1956 Olympics team but he couldn't go as his company denied him leave,' Gurbux recollected.

In the domestic arena, Datt was the captain of the Mohun Bagan hockey squad from 1951-1953 and again between 1957 and 1958.

He won the hockey league six times and Beighton Cup three times in a span of 10 years during his time with Bagan.

He was conferred with the Mohun Bagan Ratna award in 2019, becoming the first non-footballer recipient of the honour.

An aggressive competitor on the field, Datt was a simple and naive man off the pitch, according to Gurbux, who knew him closely 'He was very aggressive on the field but you can't imagine how soft spoken and naive he was after the match. He had invested all his earnings 30-40 years back in a tea manufacturing business with his friends only to lose all his money,' Gurbux said.

Such was his aura that the crowd used to give him standing ovations whenever took the pitch in domestic tournaments.

'I first saw his aura in 1952 on the sidelines of the Beighton Cup final match between Mohun Bagan and Bangalore-based Hindustan Aircraft when the jam-packed crowd gave him a standing ovation the moment he entered the field,' a former Mohun Bagan player said.

Talent was in abundance in Datt as not just hockey, he excelled in badminton too. He won the Bengal state badminton championship thrice during his hey days.

His former Bengal teammate in both the sports, Kumaresh Sen, recalled, 'He won the singles, doubles and mixed doubles title. He had the height advantage and had powerful smashes.' And he hated losing.

Datt had challenged legendary shuttler George Lewis, the first player to win 10 Indian national titles between 1936 and 1949.

'...as fate would have it, our hockey hero lost in straight sets. Normally, Datt would talk less even after a losing but this time he went up to him (Lewis) and asked him you come to hockey field I will teach you a lesson there'. I can't forget that,' Sen remembered. PTI SSC/TAP PM PM

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