Fresh from captaining the Indian hockey team to impressive performances in the 34th FIH Champions Trophy and the Asian Champions Trophy, Sardar Singh took a well deserved small break and is now bracing up to guide the Delhi Wave Riders to a decent showing in the inaugural Hockey India League.
The 26-year-old stopped short of tagging any team as favourites and only chose to paint a realistic picture. “Look, all five teams are evenly balanced. Of course, every team would have their own strengths but let me tell you, no team can be taken lightly,” he said in an exclusive interview.
The league promises to showcase some exhilarating hockey over the coming four weeks. Sardar believes that the team which makes the most of the scoring opportunities will be strong contenders for the HIL crown. “Any team which consistently converts the scoring chances will emerge as strong title contenders. Similarly, any team which makes lesser blunders, especially in defence, would be better placed to win the league,” he pointed out.
The Haryana Police DSP is of the opinion that recovering fast after matches will hold the key for all teams. “There will be back-to-back matches and it is not going to be easy. I guess that’s where teams recovering fast will enjoy a competitive advantage,” he makes his point.
There is already so much talk about Hockey India League giving India hockey a big ‘push’. And the Delhi Wave Riders’ marquee player has no doubts that the HIL would raise the profile of hockey not just in India but also on the international stage. “It is the best thing that has happened to Indian and world hockey. The Indian players will hugely benefit from it, even the foreign players would richly benefit. Hockey India deserves a pat on the back for conducting the HIL.”
One of the world’s best centre-halfs cited the example of the Premier Hockey League to buttress his point. “The PHL was a great success and it should have been continued. People who were running after cricket were turning towards hockey. Not just that, the PHL provided a supply line of youngsters to the national team. Hopefully, HIL will provide the supply line for India and showcase some hidden talents.”
The Indian midfielder feels that the presence of some of the world’s top players will surely help to pull in more crowds to the stadium and hook more people to the television. “Definitely it will. Guys like Jamie Dwyer, Taeke Taekema and Teun de Noojer are well known world over. Presence of such iconic players will draw in the crowds and viewers on TV,” he said on a bullish note.
The Indian team’s performance in the 34th FIH Champions Trophy and Asian Champions Trophy has raised the banner of hope among the hockey fans. And Sardar feels that all the hard work put in by the boys after the disastrous Olympics campaign came to the fore. “Trapping and man-to-man marking was a concern at the Olympics but we worked hard on these areas and it showed in Melbourne and Doha. Our defence did a great job, even while defending penalty corners,” he observed.
No other player sprang a bigger surprise than goalkeeper PT Rao – his standout performance was a big positive surprise for Sardar. “It was a pleasant surprise. We did not even expect Rao to perform so well in Melbourne but he did a fantastic job. His vast experience of playing at the domestic level also stood him in good stead,” he was lavish in praise for the 34-year-old Services goal-tender.
Sardar touched a pertinent point when he talked about the need to play against top teams on a regular basis. “We need to play against teams like Australia, Netherlands and Germany on a regular basis. Playing against such teams would give our players more confidence and also improve our hockey.”
The demure Indian captain, who has played more than 150 internationals, assessed the performance of the Indian forward line. “Gurwinder Singh Chandi and SV Sunil have been around for some time and fared well. There were quite a few youngsters playing in their first tournaments and made some mistakes; probably they were little nervous going into their first senior tourney. I’m sure they will get better with experience.”
Small breaks between tournaments are a great thing for any player. And for Sardar, it is no different. He enjoyed the break after playing three tournaments in a span of one month.
But like always, he takes all care to keep a check on his diet while he is on a break and spending time with his family. “You need to watch out for your diet. Like when I go to my village, my relatives shower me with so much affection and serve me ghee-coated aloo parathas. Initially, I couldn’t say no to them but later was able to convince them that having ghee disturbs my fitness. Now they are fully aware of what I eat and what I don’t,” he flashed a broad smile before sounding the final hooter.