New Delhi: Quite like the beginning and the dozen years that followed, the end of Sardar Singh’s journey in international hockey was understated, contrasting with the hype that often marks the culmination of a great career.
What was there, instead, was a simple goodbye and gratitude. A third Olympic appearance did not materialise but Sardar, nonetheless, walked into the sunset after a stellar 12-year career during which he not only established himself as a face of Indian hockey but also as a global star.
Sardar was eager to continue till the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but destiny had other plans as he called time at 32, after a disappointing Asian Games campaign where India failed to defend their title.
Many feel that Sardar was made a scapegoat for India’s disastrous campaign and was forced to retire but by his own admission, the loss to Malaysia in the Asiad semifinal triggered thoughts of retirement.
“I wanted to continue and I feel I had some more years of hockey left in me but I just couldn’t digest the loss to Malaysia. I couldn’t sleep for days after that loss. That was the trigger,” Sardar stated.
He played hockey like a king and goes away after a career during which he led India to Asian Games gold in Incheon (2014) besides two bronze medals in 2010 and 2018. He won two Commonwealth Games silver, a historic silver in the Champions Trophy (2018 Breda), two Asia Cup titles and numerous other trophies.
At 32, Sardar left behind a rich legacy, having led the side for eight years from 2008 till handing over the responsibility to PR Sreejesh in 2016. He was a talismanic midfielder who played the game on his own terms with fitness being the key to his success.
Sardar was among the fittest players in the squad and registered a score of 21.4 in the Yo-Yo fitness test before the Asian Games. He not only bettered his own record of 21.3 but also surpassed the fitness freak Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli, considered one of the country’s fittest athlete.
Throughout his career, Sardar was held in high esteem by the hockey world, for his midfield control and precision passing. His stature can be gauged from the fact that at his prime Sardar was included in the FIH All-Star team for consecutive years in 2010 and 2011, a feat very few hockey player of India has achieved.
Sardar was low on confidence after the Commonwealth Games snub earlier this year but a telephonic chat with the iconic Sachin Tendulkar motivated him to work hard towards regaining his place in the national team. Left out of India’s squad for this year’s Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Sardar sought advice from Tendulkar and the legend’s tips worked wonders for the former hockey captain as he made a successful comeback into the side for the Champions Trophy, where he helped India win a historic silver. “Sachin paaji has been an inspiration for me. He helped me a lot in the last 3-4 months, which were tough,” Sardar told reporters.
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