Krishna Menon, High Commissioner for India (left), congratulates Balbir Singh, centre forward, and the India field hockey team, after their gold meda winl during the Summer Olympic Games in London on 13th August 1948. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Balbir Singh Senior, a man who never let India down

It was on Tarlochan Singh Bawa’s dying in April 2008 that Balbir Singh Senior had mentioned: “One by one the members of 1948 Olympics team are going and very soon we would have the complete team (up) there. My number is also going to come soon, as the team can’t afford to ignore the services of their most trusted forward player.”

Teammates that they had been — enjoying for pre-Partition Punjab and India — Singh and Bawa had been additionally inseparable from any hockey occasion right here. Singh continued the custom until October, 2018 when he needed to spend 102 days in hospital with pneumonia and coronary heart illnesses.

Singh died right here on Monday. He was 96. A former India captain, Singh was a part of groups that received three Olympic gold medals (1948, 1952, 1956) and as Asian Games silver (1958). Keshav Datt is now the one surviving member of the workforce of ’48.

Also Read | Role fashions like him come uncommon: Sporting fraternity mourns dying of hockey legend Balbir Singh Sr

As participant, supervisor or coach, India by no means missed the rostrum when Singh was concerned. India’s solely World Cup title got here in 1975 when Singh was supervisor. In 1971, India received bronze within the World Cup when Singh was coach.

Exactly how good a centre-forward Singh was might be gauged by a chunk of statistic that stands as Olympic document: he scored 5 objectives within the 1952 ultimate in opposition to Holland in a 6-1 win. No one has scored that many in a gold-medal match ever. On his Olympics debut in 1948 in opposition to Argentina, Singh scored six objectives, one other document. He was invited as a dwelling legend for the 2012 Games in London.

A workforce man

But Singh by no means spoke of particular person capability. Recalling India’s 1975 World Cup marketing campaign, he had mentioned: “So many people worked so hard to make it possible. The boys played with unity, for each other and there was no place for showmanship. It was the combined efforts that made winning for India possible.”

And at a Chandigarh Press Club occasion on August 12, 2018 — to mark 70 years of India profitable their first Olympics hockey gold — Singh, after politely refusing to ship his speech whereas sitting, had mentioned: “Hockey is a team game and without my team I would be nobody.”

Also Read | Balbir Singh Senior: Highlights of a stellar profession in hockey

The remark was preceded by Singh naming teammates from the London Games and their enjoying positions. The capability to speak in virtually graphic element about video games in Amritsar and Lahore and workforce members of faculty, state and India groups stayed with Singh until he was admitted to hospital for the final time on May 8.

Every time he described the medal ceremony of the 1948 Games — his arms rising slowly to depict India’s flag being hoisted for the primary time — Singh’s eyes would moist over. “As a child I used to ask my father (Dalip Singh Dosanjh), who was a freedom fighter, what independence meant and what we would get out of it. He’d reply that independence would give us our own identity, flag and pride forever,” mentioned Singh, in an interview to this paper in August, 2018.

“That day, when our flag was hoisted in front of thousands at Wembley stadium, I realised what independence meant. It was the proudest moment for me and for all Indians back home. When the national anthem was played and the flag was going up, I felt like I was flying.”

PICTURES: Balbir Singh Sr passes away: A glance again at historic profession of Hockey legend

India, solely 362 days previous as a rustic and compelled to rebuild the hockey workforce as a result of a lot of key gamers had chosen to play for Pakistan, beat Great Britain 4-Zero within the ultimate with Singh scoring twice.

At the Games, gamers from Pakistan, Singh wrote in his autobiography ‘The Golden Hat Trick’, who had been teammates until months in the past, would preserve their distance. One friendship although was revived in March 2005 when Shazada Muhammad Shahrukh, who alongside along with his brother Shazada Khurram performed for Punjab with Singh, visited Mohali throughout an India-Pakistan cricket Test.

“It’s was pleasant surprise for me. When a journalist asked Shahrukh whether he had come to Chandigarh to watch the Test, his answer was that cricket was just an excuse; he had come to meet his friend Balbir,” mentioned Singh after Shahrukh had visited his home.

Heeding PM Shastri’s attraction

In 1965, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri appealed to Indians to contribute to the National Defence Fund, Singh had wished at hand over his Olympic medals. “The country’s troubled time was bigger than my Olympic medals. That’s why I gave it to the national defence fund,” Singh mentioned later.

On Singh’s insistence, the medals had been stored within the Punjab’s chief minister’s workplace. A couple of months later, they had been despatched to Singh, then head of the sports activities division in Punjab — with a letter which mentioned: “These medals are the country’s pride and prestige and couldn’t be sold.”

When Singh went to the 2012 Games, the gold medals had been displayed in an exhibition and insured for Rs 50 lakh every.

Born in Haripur Khalsa, Punjab, on December 31, 1923, hockey was greater than a sport for Singh who retired from the Punjab sports activities division in 1982. During the preparatory camp for the 1975 World Cup, Singh’s father died and spouse Sushil was in hospital for 4 weeks following a mind hemorrhage. The solely day Singh missed the camp was on December 29 when his father was cremated.

For a participant who excelled at his craft when India dominated subject hockey — Singh was the primary sportsperson to be awarded the Padma Shree, in 1957, 4 years earlier than the Arjuna awards had been instituted — he was remarkably freed from rancour in regards to the current. It’s been 40 years since India final received the Olympic gold however Singh by no means questioned the gamers’ effort. He was additionally unfailingly beneficiant along with his time.

Singh set nice retailer by the quantity 13. It was his shirt quantity on the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. “During the acclimatization for the Olympics in Copenhagen, a girl said I am wearing an unlucky number. I told her that in north India, ‘tera’ (Number 13) is also a form of addressing God. So, for me it’s my luckiest number. In Helsinki, the van that took us to the stadium for our first match had a number plate that added up to 13. In the entire tournament (Olympics) we scored 13 goals,” he mentioned.

If conversations ever veered to the topic of dying, Singh would inevitably say, “My only wish is that whenever I go, I shouldn’t have any burden of hurting anybody’s sentiments.”

Singh is survived by daughter Sushbir Bhomia, sons Kanwalbir, Karanbir and Gurbir and grandchildren amongst whom is Kabir Bhomia, who put his life on maintain to take care of ‘nanji.’