Updated: August 5, 2021 8:21:19 am
Punjab Police superintendent (SP) and former player Varinderpreet Singh still remembers his four-year-old son Hardik accompanying grandfather Pritam Singh, a former Indian Navy player and coach, to the hockey ground at their village Khusropur near Jalandhar. While Pritam and Varinderpreet didn’t get a chance to play for India, Pritam’s younger brother Gurmail Singh was part of the 1980 Moscow Olympics gold medal-winning Indian team.
On Sunday, as 22-year-old midfielder Hardik first assisted Gurjant Singh for India’s second goal and later scored the third to seal a 3-1 win against Great Britain to enter the medal rounds at the Olympics after more than four decades, Varinderpreet was keenly following his son’s every move.
“Hardik’s grandfather was as passionate about hockey as anybody. I still remember it was the month of June when a four-year-old Hardik accompanied my father to the village hockey field. When we said that it’s too hot, my father replied, ‘Je bacche nu garmi nahi lagdi, te fer kahda darna (If the kid does not feel the heat, then why should we be scared). Unfortunately, my father died in 2017. If he was alive today, he would have applauded Hardik donning the Indian jersey and helping India reach the semifinals at Olympics,” Varinderpreet told The Indian Express.
The Singh family also includes Gurmail and Rajbir Kaur, former Indian women’s hockey captain, apart from uncle and former India drag-flicker Jugraj Singh. Hardik would initially play at the village ground and the lawn at their house. It was only in 2012 that he was enrolled at the Punjab Institute of Sports Academy at Mohali, which also saw him working as a ball boy during the Hockey India League before he shifted to the Surjit Hockey Academy in Jalandhar, which has produced players like former Indian captain Pargat Singh and current skipper Manpreet Singh.
“Training at Mohali meant that Hardik spent a lot of time under former Olympian Sukhvir Singh Grewal which strengthened his basics were too strong. He would play as right-half initially and we spent a lot of time on skill, gap creation and training in pressure situations. Since we had more than 200 state and national players at a time in our batches, he learnt to practise in pressure situations on the field,” recalls Surjit Hockey Academy coach Avtar Singh.
Made to wait
While Hardik would be included among the probables of the 2016 Junior World Cup along with Dilpreet Singh and Shamsher Singh, the trio did not make the final team. But he would train under head coach Harendra Singh and other thinkers of the game as he was turned into a centre-half.
“On seeing Hardik at a junior tournament, Pargat told me to take care of this boy as he is special. Harendra too told me that even though Hardik could not make the junior World Cup team, with time, he will be an asset for the Indian team. Training at a residential academy made him more disciplined,” Varinderpreet says.
Coach Avtar Singh has seen Hardik’s metamorphosis from a right-half to a centre-half from his junior days. “As a right-half, there are very few options to make it to the Indian team and hence we started working to turn him into a centre-half. A centre-half can be more creative and we would train him in various aspects of the role. Sometimes, it would mean more than 100 repetitions in one training session against quality players. The way he anticipated the ball and zone-marked the British defender and passed the ball to Gurjant speaks of Hardik’s skill. And to see him sprint 50m and then control the ball to score the goal on the rebound shows us the way Hardik reacts,” Avtar says.
It was not until 2018 that Hardik got a chance in the senior Indian team and there was a time when he had started thinking about playing in leagues abroad rather than concentrating on his India career. He would make his senior debut at the Asian Champions Trophy and would also feature in the 2018 World Cup. Jugraj remembers his conversation with Hardik at that time. “Hardik has been a very disciplined boy. The best thing about him is that he is an attacking midfielder. I remember in 2017 when he became a bit impatient about not getting a chance at senior level and wanted to play leagues, I told him that he still has a long way to go. With experience, he has shown that he has skill and strength apart from presence of mind,” Jugraj says.
Gurmail, a right-half in the Moscow Olympics team, hopes to have another Olympic medallist in the family. “Being a member of the last Indian team to win an Olympic gold, it has been a long wait and we are praying for Hardik and the Indian team to bring another medal for India.”
Hardik’s mother Kanwaljeet Kaur will be reciting Sukhmani Sahib path when India play Belgium in the semifinals. “Hardik calls us before every match and tells us to not only pray for him but for the whole Indian team. That’s what we did today and will be doing for the semis,” she says.