If you're traveling down the GT road from Delhi to Chandigarh, a little before Ambala, there's a sign for Shahbad Markanda. Most people don't even notice it. Those that do try and bypass the area, believed to have several criminal connections.
Last week though, the little town of 35,000 had reason to celebrate — Sandeep Singh was named India's hockey captain. What made this even more special was that Surinder Kaur was also retained as the Indian women's skipper, making it the first time ever that the captains of India's hockey teams have been from the same town at the same time. They even began under the same coach, Baldev Singh.
What makes the story of both Sandeep and Surinder extraordinary though, is the odds they fought. On August 22, 2006, Sandeep was traveling to Delhi by the Shatabdi Express, en route to joining his teammates ahead of the World Cup in Germany, when the gun of an RPF jawan went off accidentally and caught the drag-flicker in the hip. There was talk of paralysis while most experts wrote off his hockey career.
"That time was really tough," Sandeep told HT. "In hospital, I even thought I would never pick up a stick again. But then I realised that hockey was my life and I had to try and give it everything I had." He did and made it but the captaincy was a surprise.
Again, when Surinder first put on an India jersey a decade ago, her father, a daily wage labourer on a farm, couldn't afford to buy her a hockey stick. A couple of months ago, she helped her family buy a new house. Today, her father does his own farming. "My family went through terrible times, but we survived, because of hockey," said Surinder.
Together, the twosome from the town in the middle of nowhere, plan to lead Indian hockey back to its glorious past.