Former India captain Sardar Singh is an enigma. Known for his skills on the hockey field, the 30-year-old midfielder was in the news for the wrong reasons owing to developments in his personal life ahead of the Rio Olympics.
As a result, Hockey India (HI) stripped him of captaincy. India failed at the Olympics, but Sardar made sure he picked up the pieces and looked ahead.
The lanky player played a big role in setting up India’s title triumph at the Asian Champions Trophy in Malaysia. In an interview with HT, Sardar spoke about the pressure in the Asian Champions Trophy final against Pakistan, how well the youngsters are shaping up and his keenness to be captain again.
The victory against Pakistan was the perfect Diwali gift to the nation. What was the mood in the dressing room ahead of the final keeping in mind the state of ties between the two nations?
Playing Pakistan is always a bigger challenge in any tournament. We beat them in the league stage, and our focus was to be the best in the tournament and play each match to the strategy designed by the coach. We stuck to the job and did not repeat the mistakes we committed in the Rio Olympics.
We remained unbeaten and that gave us the boost going into the final. We had been reading about what was happening in the country, and the seniors made sure pressure did not get to the youngsters ahead of the final. We kept aggression in control and let our hockey do the talking. The Asian Champions Trophy triumph was for the nation and our brave jawans.
You played a key role in steering India to victory against South Korea in the semifinals as Ramandeep (Singh) scored in the dying minutes after being fed by you. How would you assess your performance?
It was great getting to know the youngsters off the field and striking a rapport. Be it during the breakfast sessions or after practice, I tried to spend time and mingle with the youngsters. That worked on the field. It was amazing to see Ramandeep, Akashdeep (Singh) and Rupinder Pal Singh make use of the scoring opportunities. Rupinder had a great penalty corner conversion rate in the Asian Champions Trophy. He is going to be an asset. In such a scenario, my game also picked up and we gelled as a team.
You are a former captain while PR Sreejesh led the side in the Asian Champions Trophy. Did you shoulder responsibility with him?
We had animated team meetings, and each one expressed himself. Being an experienced campaigner, I always had a thing or two to say. The main thing is that India should win and if I can give inputs, I’m always keen. In modern times, hockey is fast and everyone has to act like the captain.
Hockey India named Sreejesh captain for the Rio Olympics. How did you feel after losing out on captaincy and did it affect you psychologically?
Leave alone sportspersons, every person goes through ups and downs in life. Suddenly, I came under scrutiny owing to my personal life. I was disappointed on losing the captaincy but got over it in no time and worked hard on my game.
I led the India team for four years before the Olympics. It would have been an honour to do so in Rio as well. But what is more important is to play for the country.
Did losing out on captaincy turn out to be a blessing in disguise? You could forget about the off-field controversies and focus on the game.
You can say that. I was able to spend time with the younger players and connect with them. It is important that the mid-fielder gels with the team members. I was able to think about my form and strategies. It worked for me during that phase as I stayed away from things other than hockey.
Given a chance would you be keen to take up captaincy again?
I love leading the team and would be more than happy to take up the job. I like to be aggressive and keep talking to the boys. They listen to me and respond well.