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Posted at: Sep 13, 2018, 2:00 AM; last updated: Sep 13, 2018, 2:00 AM (IST)

Sardar has had enough

Excluded from 25-strong core group for Asian Champions Trophy, ex-captain retires

Sardar Singh

  • Age: 32 years
  • From: Sirsa, Haryana
  • Employed: Haryana Police
  • Arjuna Award: 2012
  • Padma Shri: 2015
  • India debut: 2006
  • Matches: Over 350
Sardar has had enough

Indervir Grewal

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, september 12

“Talisman!” “Lynchpin!” In the last 12 years, many such monikers have been used when describing former India captain Sardar Singh.

He has been called the heart of the Indian team, and some consider him among the greatest ever. Sardar Singh’s greatness as a hockey player is debatable; but what cannot be questioned is his popularity. Over the last decade, Sardar has been the face of Indian hockey. At the peak of his fame, Sardar was to Indian hockey what Lionel Messi is to football.

If Sardar was playing — and he featured in almost every India match during his heyday — he was the focus of all the attention, regardless of the match’s result. He made the headlines when India won and was the one “bright spot” when the team lost.

Youngest captain

Hailing from Sirsa in Haryana, Sardar came out of the Namdhari Academy. He made his international debut in 2006 at the age of 20. Though he had represented the junior India team, initially Sardar was known as the younger brother of former international player Didar Singh. However, over the next three years, Sardar made phenomenal growth. He became a mainstay in the midfield, and in 2008, after India failed to qualify for the Olympics, he was made the captain. As the youngest captain ever, he led the team to a silver medal at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. By the time the 2010 World Cup came along, Sardar was at his peak.

Indian hockey, though, was going through an upheaval after the Olympics debacle. The Indian crowd was eager for a new star who could lead the team into a new era.

With his ball control and his long — audacious at times — passes from the back, Sardar won over the home crowd and became the sensation of the tournament. The youngster overshadowed his senior, and more popular, teammates.

The accused

But stardom went to his head and he was involved in a controversy in 2011. Sardar, along with Sandeep Singh, had walked out of the national camp under Australian Michael Nobbs. It being his third act of indiscipline in a short period, Hockey India banned him for two years.

But after an apology, his ban was revoked by the federation and he was recalled. After that controversy, though, Sardar started keeping a low profile off-field and strived to become a model sportsperson on the field. Over the next few years, the Indian hockey team became synonymous with Sardar. He was nominated for FIH’s player of the year award in 2012. As the Indian team rose again, so did Sardar’s popularity. He was the poster-boy during all of India’s campaigns… Till he was accused of rape by an Indian-origin British woman in early 2016. Though Sardar denied the charge and was given a clean chit by the Ludhiana Police’s special investigation team, the controversy hurt his image. Before the Rio Olympics, he lost the captaincy to PR Sreejesh. 

With his popularity dropping, his game was questioned for the first time. Already on the down-slope, Sardar’s game had suffered further after the controversy.

Out of position

Sardar, who was likened to top international players such as Moritz Fuerste in 2010, was in no man’s land in 2016. Before the Rio Games, Roelant Oltmans raised a question mark over Sardar’s position in the midfield. He said Sardar was slowing the game down in the middle by holding on to the ball for too long. It wasn’t helping Sardar that he was playing alongside younger and faster midfielders such as Manpreet Singh.

But age had only marginally reduced something that Sardar had never possessed — great speed. In an interview in February this year, Sardar had admitted that he was never fast. And that was one of his weaknesses. Sardar had brilliant ball control and could make unbelievable passes. But his lack of speed prevented him from making those penetrative runs from the midfield. And because the midfielders are put under a lot of pressure, he couldn’t make those decisive passes playing in the centre.

It was a reason he was shifted back into the sweeper-back’s position time and again by different coaches. While he flourished as a playmaker, his poor defensive skills let him and the team down. Oltmans faced the same dilemma. However, despite the criticism, Oltmans took Sardar to the Rio Olympics, but as a forward.

At that time, it was largely expected that the Olympics would be his last tournament. But Sardar stayed on; and like many top players who overstay their welcome to see their popularity fade, Sardar came under criticism.

Sjoerd Marijne dropped him for last year’s World League Finals and April’s Commonwealth Games, but Sardar’s persistence, along with the circumstances, again saw him make a comeback. At the Asian Games, he had expressed his desire to play till the 2020 Olympics, but not being considered for the national camp might have nudged him to retire.

Achievements

  • Player of Tournament in 2012 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup (India won Bronze)
  • Player of Tournament in 2010 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup (India won Gold)
  • Captained India from 2008 to 2016, with a gap in between
  • Figured in two Olympic Games (2012, 2016)
Best of Sardar: Asiad gold, CT silver

Sardar Singh’s best achievement with the Indian team was the Asian Games gold in 2014 and the Champions Trophy silver in 2018. He figured in two Olympic Games, in 2012 and 2016, in which India fared poorly. Career Highlights:

  • Asian Games: Gold: Incheon 2014, Bronze: Guangzhou 2010, Jakarta 2018
  • Commonwealth Games: Silver: 2010 New Delhi, 2014 Glasgow
  • Asia Cup: Gold: 2007 Chennai, 2017 Dhaka, Silver: 2013 Ipoh
  • Champions Trophy: Silver: 2018 Breda

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