Sardar Singh led India to 2014 Asian Games gold in Incheon
Sardar Singh has carried the burden of Indian hockey for far too long — over a decade to be precise, since his 2006 debut against arch-rivals Pakistan. Though fitness, he insists, is not an issue yet, he does realise that he's nearing the fag end of an impressive career. But before he hangs up that stick, he wants a couple of things desperately.
"A World Cup medal and an Olympic medal are the only two important prizes that are missing from my trophy cabinet and that's the only reason why I continue to work hard every morning. I've yearned too long for those late night parties and late morning wake-ups, but that's not going to happen at least for two-three years more," Sardar, 31, tells mid-day over the phone from New Delhi on the sidelines of a Hockey India event to announce its association with the Odisha Government for the upcoming FIH World Cup later this year.
Packed calendar aheadThe Indian hockey team plays a series of important tournaments in 2018 including the Commonwealth Games (April 4-15 in Gold Coast, Australia), FIH Champions Trophy (June 23 to July 1 in the Netherlands), Asian Games (August 18 to September 2 in Jakarta, Indonesia) and FIH World Cup (November 28 to December 16 in Bhubaneswar). But the year is even more important to Sardar, who has been in and out of the Indian team recently.
The last couple of years have also seen him lose the captain's armband and undergo questioning by United Kingdom police in a sexual assault case. But these things don't matter anymore, says the extremely skillful playmaker.
Emotionally strong "I've been around in Indian hockey for far too long to let anything other than my game trouble me. Losing captaincy or my place doesn't affect me anymore. Even personal problems don't matter. Currently, I'm enjoying being handed my free-man position on the field again, rather than the more restricted defensive role which I was given earlier. I can now freely move up and down the field with the players and guide both the attack as well as defence. This is the most promising phase in my career," adds the Deputy Superintendent of Haryana Police.
'Youngsters can bring glory'In fact, Sardar says he's happy to play under a young captain like Manpreet Singh. "If you look at cricket, Sachin Tendulkar was on top and eventually he also had to make way for younger legs. Then MS Dhoni led and now Virat Kohli is the captain. So, as a player, these changes happen and one has to accept it. The good thing is that just like the Indian cricket team have a good young lot in them, we too have a group of youngsters in our ranks, who can bring us glory," he explains.
Finally, Sardar lists out his priorities for the next year or so. "I led the team to the Asian Games gold in Incheon which saw us qualify for the Rio Olympics, so the Asian Games is a very important tournament. The World Cup is in our backyard, so that's a priority too," he concludes.