Speaking on the Express Sports podcast, Aslam shared reminiscences of his time with the three-time Olympic gold medallist Balbir, who handed away on May 25. The lone Muslim within the Indian staff, Aslam was making ready for a visit to Kuala Lumpur mosque — in a bus additionally carrying the Pakistan staff members — when Balbir stepped into his room.
“‘Beta I’ll also offer namaz with you’, he said. It was our strength that Allah, Waheguru, Bhagwan everybody came together for us. We went to the mosque, (Balbir) was wearing a red turban… It had an effect on the Pakistan team,” Aslam stated.
“Their great hockey player Abdul Rashid Jr turned to his teammates and said, ‘now, it’s tough for Pakistan to win’. Everybody asked, ‘why’? Abdul said, ‘Ab jab sardar pehli baar namaz padenge, toh naturally allah unki pehle sunenge. (Now when a Sikh will offer namaz for the first time, god will listen to his prayers first).”
India beat Pakistan 2-1 to win their solely World Cup title.
Aslam additional paid tribute to the hockey legend, calling him an “outstanding person off the field” who “wanted to put together a united Indian team.”
“(Balbir’s) playing career is part of the golden history of Indian hockey, but a person is outstanding when he excels both on and off the field. As a manager, he wanted to put together a united Indian team, with the strength of all religions put together. He worked on that during the training camp at Chandigarh itself. He built a prayer room in the Chandigarh hostel for all religions,” Aslam stated.
“When we were stepping on the field… somebody was from Punjab, someone from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Bhopal… Balbir still had to face that thing in Kuala Lumpur once, when I was out of the team.”
Khan didn’t get an opportunity to play within the league matches of the 1975 World Cup. During the semifinal towards Malaysia, the Indian staff was trailing and supervisor Dosanjh and coach Bodhi had been concerned in an animated dialogue over whether or not to switch Michael Kindo with Khan. Dosanjh’s argument prevailed and he held Khan’s face in his arms and stated, “ja beta, ab tera khuda hi bharat ko bacha sakta hai”.
Two minutes later, Khan’s aim via a penalty nook ensured the match was tied 2-2 and went into further time the place Harcharan Singh scored the winner.
“Ultimately, he knew that I had a role to play. When it was time in semifinal, he received the signal from the powers above. Ki yahan ek musalman ladke ki zarurat hai, jo khuda ka naam leke bhi maidan pe utre (a Muslim player is needed here, who can step on the field praying to his God).”