With focus on fitness, Sardar Singh plots comeback to Indian hockey team
During the 2012 London Olympics, Sardar Singh was the only player in the Indian squad who featured in all the matches playing the entire duration of 70 minutes without being substituted. Two years later, he was the skipper of the side when India struck gold at the Asian Games after a gap of 16 years. But by the time of the 2016 Rio Olympics, lady luck had stopped smiling on Sardar. He had lost his captaincy and also the tag of the most dependable player. Since then he was left out on several occasions from the squad, including the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Now eager to regain his lost place, Sardar is depending on his fitness, a feature for which he has been criticised a lot of late. “I never imagined being out of the squad, that too at this juncture when I thought my game had matured. But up and downs are part of the game, so I didn’t find it difficult to deal with the situation. I am sticking to the basics to get back to the squad,” says Sardar. “Fitness and aggression have always been my strengths, so once again I am giving more push to fitness. My first target is to prove my worth in the ongoing camp and get selected for the Champions Trophy to be held in July,” says the two-time Olympian.
There were occasions in the past too when Sardar had to warm the bench, but he has never given up and was back with a bang. He missed a berth in the junior squad for the 2005 World Cup, but the very next year he made up for the loss by getting into the senior squad for the Commonwealth Games. During the 2011 Asian Champions Trophy camp, Sardar left the camp midway and was dropped. But soon he was back and emerged as the lynchpin of the team during the 2012 London Olympics.
“I am as hungry and eager as I was when I was selected for the first time to the senior squad in 2006. In the last six months, I have missed two major tournaments - the Hockey World League Final and the Commonwealth Games, so I know I have to work extra hard to wrest my place back in the squad,” said the 31-year-old midfielder. “Post Commonwealth Games, we had a three-week-long camp and the thrust was mainly on fitness. I am satisfied with my performance. After a gap of 10 days, we are again at the camp. Apart from the regular training sessions, I am paying additional attention to fitness, so that I can show that I am the same Sardar I was a couple of years ago,” he adds.
After missing the podium in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, all eyes will be on the Asian Games. And gold in the continental games will give a direct entry to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“Asian Games is an important tournament for us and a top finish there will help us in our preparations for the Tokyo Olympics. But right now Champions Trophy is the topmost priority for me. For the sake of my future in the sport, I have to earn a berth in the squad at any cost. Once I am there, my next target will be the Asian Games,” says Sardar, who was the captain of the side when India won gold in the previous edition of the Asian Games (2014 Incheon).
Sardar means business. And in all probability, he will come back stronger. Critics can ignore him at their own peril.