In the final part of this Walk the Talk on NDTV 24X7, veteran hockey player Balbir Singh Senior tells The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta about the 1975 World Cup that he won as coach, welcomes the Hockey India League and laments the decline of hockey as a popular sport.
Your strength is that you don’t complain, you are very positive. You don’t complain about astro-turf and modern rules. In fact, you won India a World Cup on astro-turf in 1975, in the age of modern hockey. Tell us about that.
The preparatory camp for the World Cup had been set up on Panjab University campus, where we were given every facility. I was the chief coach and manager then. However, within the first few days of the camp, my father passed away. I took a day’s leave for the cremation and completed his last rites only after winning the World Cup.
It is believed that India has not seen a team like the one you assembled in 1975. I mean, we haven’t had full-backs like Surjit Singh and Michael Kindo. They were so cool headed. And then there was Ajit Pal Singh as the centre-half. He was the captain too. And at the front line-up you had Shivaji Pawar, V J Phillips, H J S Chimni…
Since I was the chief coach, the director of the camp, if I wanted, I could have assembled a team of only Punjabis. But the country comes first.
And I believe you told all your players to think of the team as an Army regiment.
I had even set up a common prayer. Also coined a new slogan: Jo bole so hai, Bharat mata ki jai. The new slogan was important because I wanted to ensure that the team had a pan-India presence to it. The kids (players) also liked it. And we put up a united front. That was the time my wife was unwell, she was in coma… Because I had stayed with teams before, I knew that the boys used to sneak out at night. So, to control that situation, I asked the hotel management to allot us a separate wing. I would place my chair at the entrance and guard the wing to ensure no one went out at night.
During the World Cup, the defenders — Surjit and Michael — were the team’s strong points. They were like a fortress. Always cool and composed and with perfect recovery of the ball. And yet, in the final match, you brought in Aslam Sher Khan and he scored a penalty.
We brought in Aslam because I was slightly worried that with the continued…
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