Former India hockey player Usman Khan who passed away on Friday, was a rare gem. He played for India during the 1960s alongside some of the most well known names of Indian hockey. His captain was the famous Gurbux Singh who led India with great distinction.
Usman Khan was born in Madanapalle town in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh which was then a nondescript collection of buildings and houses with plenty of open grounds surrounding the dwellings. The region is known for its agricultural products, especially tomatoes. But the town is also known for its association with the famous philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurthy.
After doing his basic study in the rural environs of Madanapalle, Usman played for a few seasons for Madras University and Madras State (now Tamil Nadu) in the domestic circuit hockey tournaments. He then went for further study at the Aligarh Muslim University. It was here that his talent for hockey began to blossom. He was a fleet footed left winger whose stickwork and ball control was outstanding.
The University had a long standing tradition of excellence in different sports but especially hockey. Over the years, AMU has produced stars of Indian hockey such as Zafar Iqbal, Inam-ur-Rehman and others. Because the standard of hockey was high, it was while studying at AMU that Usman Khan had the chance to flourish. He represented AMU in the All India inter University hockey championships.
After completing his studies at AMU he went to work for Calcutta Customs and while he was in Calcutta (now Kolkata) he also played for a few years under the colours of Mohun Bagan’s hockey team. Here again he was in contact with Gurbux Singh who captained Mohun Bagan for several years and was honoured with the Mohun Bagan Ratna award later.
Usman’s tenure with Mohun Bagan helped him to develop a cutting edge to his game. He went on to represent Bengal State in the national hockey championships for the Rangaswamy Cup. He was then selected for the Indian team that went on a tour of Europe.
He played Test matches against France and Holland. Later he also represented India against Malaysia and Japan playing a total of 50 matches under the Indian flag. He played alongside some of the great names of the era such as Gurbux Singh, Prithipal Singh, Shanker Laxman etc. But the crowning glory of his career was when, as a member of the Indian team, he won the Madrid Cup hockey tournament in 1967.
After retirement he went back to his native town. But sadly he passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer at the age of 76. He is survived by three sons and a daughter. Expressing his condolences to Khan’s family, Hockey India President Gyanendro Ningombam said, “We are deeply saddened to learn about the demise of former India player Usman Khan.
He is remembered for his excellent abilities as a left-winger and was a very stylish player in those times. On behalf of Hockey India, I extend our deepest condolences to his family in this moment of grief,” he stated.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.