Note: This article was originally published on April 14, 2020. BG Joshi died at the age of 66 on April 20, 2021.
When Indian forward Gurjant Singh scored a goal against the Netherlands just 13 seconds after the start during the FIH Pro Hockey match in Bhubaneshwar in January, the obvious question on everybody’s mind was whether this was the fastest goal ever scored and who held the record before the game.
The TV broadcast had no answers as the game moved ahead and they concentrated on the action on the field. The question would have remained unanswered but for a scribe tweeting a little later that it was indeed the fastest goal and the earlier record was held by Ajit Singh, father of another Indian forward Gagan Ajit Singh, back in the 1976 Montreal Olympics when he scored in 15 seconds against Argentina. The end of the tweet had a small credit note, saying (Stat: BG Joshi).
Unlike cricket, which has seen a statistic driven approach to broadcast making the game watching experience all the more interesting, hockey statistics are extremely hard to find with even the world hockey federation not having data before 2013 on their website.
But for over four decades, Indian sports journalists have been ringing up a now-retired engineer from Madhya Pradesh’s Water Resource Department, Baboolal Goverdhan Joshi, to cross-check records, head-to-head and other information that the associations could not provide.
Joshi grew up in an era when hockey and football were more popular than cricket in India and people would gather around a single transistor to hear the commentary of India’s matches during the late 60s and early 70s.
“During that time, India vs Pakistan matches were followed very religiously. We would all gather near the chaiwallah to hear the commentary on radio,” Joshi told Scroll.in from his home in Sehore, 40 km from Madhya Pradesh capital Bhopal.
The 65-year-old, who can randomly throw statistics like how many players have scored 100 or more goals in international hockey or who has the highest number of caps, never played hockey competitively. The closest he got to a game was when he played ‘dadee’ using a branch of a tree and ball made of cloth rags in his ancestral village in Biaora tehsil of Rajgarh district.
Only when he entered middle school, Joshi learnt that what he played back home was a rural version of India’s most popular game hockey and started following the results of the Indian team diligently thereafter.
But becoming a hockey statistician was never really on Joshi’s mind. With the commentary of matches being the primary source of information, he started keeping notes for himself about the match results and what the players did. “I first started writing down notes during the 1970 Bangkok Asian Games. It was just my way of staying in touch,” he said.
India’s three medal-winning campaigns starting from the 1971 World Cup and culminating with the only gold medal-winning performance in 1975 only ensured that Joshi’s interest in the game continued to grow and he started keeping more detailed notes while also completing his college education at the Ujjain Engineering College.
“I started collecting data seriously only after I joined the Madhya Pradesh Water Resource Department. I then subscribed to the World Hockey magazine that the FIH used to publish monthly. The yearly subscription was 10 pounds. My monthly salary was also not that much but I still subscribed as it had details of all matches played during the month,” he said.
Joshi also subscribed to The Hindu newspaper as it was the only Indian publication that carried reports of all matches.
“The paper was not available where I used to live. So I contacted a vendor in Bhopal, gave him an advance and told him to keep all the papers for me. I would go to Bhopal whenever I would get the time and bring them home. Then, I would sit every Sunday to take down notes and also tally the details with the World Hockey magazine,” he added.
“A lady secretary then acted on my request and sent me all the back-dated issues of the magazine and I could update my database much more efficiently,” said Joshi, adding that he has now collated data in 125 different categories.
Growing responsibilities at work and at home could have affected his drive to continue gathering the data but Suresh Gawde of Hindi daily Nai Duniya and Hindu’s S Thyagrajan started publishing his data and paid him some money for the same.
“The money was not a substantial amount. It used to be around Rs 25-30. But it was important to keep me going,” he said, adding that his first statistical piece was published in Nai Duniya during the 1978 World Cup.
After the two papers started publishing his data, Joshi began taking leave from office to travel for a few international tournaments every year. On one such trip to Lahore for the 1990 World Cup, he got hold of team-wise data of most leading hockey nations as they had all published a booklet with details of their players like the number of caps, goals scored, etc.
“Since then, I have updated my record regularly after each match,” he added.
With many FIH events being held in Bhubaneshwar, Joshi makes it a point to travel to these events and regularly interacts with passionate hockey statisticians from various countries to cross-check his data.
However, what irks Joshi is that FIH hasn’t really been serious about maintaining this data and gave an example of how he had to point out a mistake in their data in India vs Germany game in the 2012 London Olympics. “India had lost the game 5-2 but the result on the website said 6-1. They had attributed the goal scored by Tushar Khandekar to Jan Rabente as both wore No 14 jersey.”
Initially, Joshi would have handwritten notes and still insists that he isn’t very tech-savvy. His two sons, however, have now helped him computerise all his data but they have their own jobs and are not really interested in hockey statistics. He, therefore, is now on the lookout for a passionate hockey fan who also loves to dabble in numbers to carry forward his legacy.
But then why is he not handing all his data to FIH or Hockey India? Or are they not interested?
“Yes, FIH has been in talks with me. Initially, they did not speak anything about money. Now they are saying that they will pay me. Though the amount hasn’t been discussed, they say that once they pay me, they won’t give me any credit. Why should I be deprived of the credit after doing so much hard work?” he asked.