Six months ago, they faced a two-year ban from hockey. Today, they're the toast of the nation. For drag-flicker Sandeep Singh and mid-fielder Sardar Singh, who played key roles in India making it to the London Olympics, the leap from outcasts to stardom has been one quick ride.
"There seemed to be no hope and we had made up our mind to quit the sport," recalled Sardar, who was named player of the tournament after India thrashed France in the final of the Olympic Qualifiers here on Sunday.
Last August, the duo, the best of friends, quit the Asian Champions Trophy camp in Bangalore midway after being 'ill treated' by the coaching staff, and took a flight back home.
"The coaching staff blamed Sandeep for relaying passes only to me. It really hurt us. We are team players and nobody can doubt our integrity. The episode upset us so much that we decided not only to leave the camp but also quit the sport," said Sardar.
Said Sandeep, the highest scorer in the qualifiers, "We even began training for the post of DSP (deputy superintendent of police)."
Hockey India wasted little time in labelling them recalcitrant and banning them for two years.
"Even after being banned, we didn't realise our mistake and continued with our police training. But India's victory in the Asian Champions Trophy changed our minds and we realised that hockey was our life and soul," said Sandeep.
"Everybody learns from mistakes and we will ensure it doesn't happen again. We are thankful to HI secretary-general Narinder Batra for pardoning us," said Sardar, who is a DSP with the Haryana Police.
"We are committed to Indian hockey and will always give our best for the country," added Sandeep.