India hockey captain Balbir Singh Sr after beating Pakistan at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

Balbir sir had no airs despite his achievements

As is at all times the case with the Indian hockey squad, the 1975 World Cup crew too comprised gamers of various beliefs and religions. To unite everybody and instil a way of function among the many gamers, Balbir Singh Sr., as crew supervisor, made a rule that your entire crew should go collectively to the gurudwara, temple or mosque in Kuala Lumpur. We needed to comply with the instruction and it will definitely helped us loads. We had sturdy bonding and that helped us win the title.

Balbir Singh was at all times a motivating issue, be it for gamers of our technology, the present crop, or the youthful technology.

If Dhyan Chand was a pillar of power for Indian hockey within the pre-Independence period, Balbir Sr. was the face of it within the period after 1947.

I used to be one-year-old when Balbir Singh gained his first Olympic gold. It was a historic second. India defeated Britain on house turf and the tri-colour of the newly impartial nation was hoisted in a rustic that had dominated it for 2 centuries. By the time he gained his third successive Olympic gold and have become a legendary determine in Indian hockey, I had began taking part in the sport.

I belong to the hockey Olympians’ village of Sansarpur in Jalandhar, and the sport got here naturally to me. I received an opportunity to play hockey along with his teammate Udham Singh, who was from my village. I used to listen to loads about Balbir Singh from our seniors within the village.

My first interplay with him was in the course of the 1966 Asian Games camp held in Jalandhar. It was temporary; I used to be a brand new comer and he was a legend. So, I couldn’t stretch the dialog.

In my profession, he accompanied the crew as supervisor thrice—1970 Asian Games, 1971 World Cup and 1975 World Cup. On all three events we returned with medals, however essentially the most particular was the 1975 World Cup and people recollections are nonetheless alive with us.

He was a radical gentleman. I hardly ever noticed him lose his mood whereas teaching or throughout any of the overseas outings as supervisor. Always smiling, his nice nature and humility are issues one should be taught from him.

By the 1975 World Cup, I used to be among the many senior gamers and had a detailed affiliation with him in the course of the camp and the event. Our camp was held on the Panjab University, Chandigarh. We have been staying within the women hostel, and at occasions the boys used to work together with the ladies. But as a result of Balbir sir was a strict disciplinarian and the gamers had excessive regard for him, everybody knew their restrict.

He was so dedicated to the sport that in the course of the camp his father expired and his spouse was admitted in hospital, however he by no means took a break.

In Kuala Lumpur in the course of the event, on daily basis he used to have a gathering with the seniors—me, Govinda and Ashok Kumar. He would take our inputs and solely then determine on the composition of the taking part in eleven earlier than each match.

We misplaced the group recreation towards Argentina and the crew felt very low. He got here to us and stated ‘forget about today’s recreation, you continue to have an opportunity to qualify for the semi-finals. You must take the sport towards West Germany as a contemporary begin’. His phrases motivated us and we not solely gained the match and certified for the semi-finals, however we went on to win the title.

Balbir Singh’s demeanor in public may very well be misleading although. Our coach Gurcharan Singh Bodhi as soon as took me apart and stated: “He is very calm with you guys and says koi bat nahi (doesn’t matter); but I have to face his anger in the room if things have gone wrong on the field.” It confirmed he was cautious to not harm anybody in public.

I’ve met him a lot of occasions after leaving the game. Every time he has handled me as his youthful brother. He had no ego or air regardless of his achievements.

The final time I met him was on February 22 in Chandigarh at a litfest. He invited me to his place for a cup of tea. I couldn’t go, and the tea will stay pending.

(The author was skipper of the 1975 World Cup-winning crew)

(As instructed to Saurabh Duggal)