India at Hockey World Cup: 1975 win in Kuala Lumpur only shining spot

India have won the hockey World Cup just once. The men’s team lifted the trophy in 1975. The women’s team’s best finish at the FIH Hockey World Cup is fourth.

The international hockey federation (FIH) started the men’s hockey World Cup in 1971 while the inaugural edition of the women’s competition was held in 1974.

Eight-time Olympic champions India, however, haven’t quite lived up to expectations in the competition.

India have only ever won the Hockey World Cup once. At the 1975 Men’s Hockey World Cup held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the Indian hockey team beat arch-rivals Pakistan to lift the trophy for the first time.

India, in fact, won a record eight gold medals in men’s hockey at the Olympics with the last one coming at Moscow 1980.

In sharp contrast, India’s fellow Asian powerhouses at the time Pakistan are the most successful team in the men’s hockey World Cup with four titles.

At the inaugural edition of the men’s hockey World Cup in 1971, India went in as one of the favourites but their entry into the final was blocked by eventual champions Pakistan in the semi-finals. India eventually settled for the bronze medal after beating Kenya 2-1 in the third-place playoff, which went into extra time.

In 1973, the Indian men’s hockey team, powered by Surjit Singh’s brilliant performances, marched into the semis, where they met reigning champions Pakistan again. This time, India avenged their semis defeat from 1971 by beating their Asian rivals 1-0 to set up a final clash against hosts the Netherlands.

India took a two-goal lead in the final courtesy a Surjit Singh brace but squandered the advantage as the match ended 2-2 after extra time. The dreaded penalty shootout didn’t go India’s way as the Dutch team won 4-2 to become the first team to win the hockey World Cup on home soil.

With a bronze and silver in the bag, India finally lived up to the promise when the hockey World Cup came to Malaysia in 1975. This was the first time the competition was being held on Asian soil.

With the legendary Balbir Singh Sr serving as the manager and the experienced Ajit Paul Singh captaining the side, India topped Pool B with three wins, one draw and a solitary loss against Argentina.

A tight 3-2 win vs hosts Malaysia pitted the Indian side against Pakistan in a high-voltage final at the Merdeka Football Stadium. Muhammad Zaid Sheikh gave Pakistan an early lead but Surjit Singh scored in his second World Cup final on the trot to bring India level. The winning goal, meanwhile, came from Ashok Kumar - the son of Indian hockey legend Dhyan Chand.

“We were very close to winning the trophy in 1973 but lost to the hosts despite leading by two goals at one time. I missed a goal in extra time and we missed penalty strokes in sudden death. It was heartbreaking for us. So we did not want to leave any stones unturned in 1975,” the match-winner Ashok Kumar later said.

Unfortunately, India never managed to build on that win and after the 1980s, the Indian men’s hockey team began to lose its sheen. Two fifth-place finishes, in 1982 and 1994, are India’s best showings at the men’s hockey World Cup since their 1975 triumph.

India have been part of all 14 editions of Men’s Hockey World Cups held to date and will also be appearing in the 15th one, the FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup 2023 in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela, as hosts

The Indian women's team's best performance at the Hockey World Cup is a fourth-place finish in 1974.

India reached the semi-finals of the inaugural Women’s Hockey World Cup in 1974 but lost out to Argentina. The Indian women’s hockey team eventually finished fourth after losing the third-place playoff to West Germany.

The fourth-place finish at the 1974 women’s hockey World Cup in Mandelieu, France, put Indian women’s hockey on the map but the team hasn’t been able to manage a top-four finish in the showpiece competition since.

The Indian women have also appeared in only eight of the 15 World Cups held so far.