In a rare television interview three years ago, Balbir Singh Senior, a three-time Olympic gold-winning hero, who died on Monday, explained the guiding philosophy of his life and career: “Invisibility is my comfort zone.”To remain invisible on the field is perhaps the biggest virtue of a centre forward, to slip between the lurking defensive lines and wriggle through lashing sticks. In a team of artistes, in an era of when high-speed dribbling was romanticised, Balbir was the cunning craftsman, a no-frills pragmatist for whom only goals, gold medals, and team-work mattered. The cloak of invisibility he so proudly wore was arguably the reason he remained anonymous for most of his lifetime, and why he’s scarcely romanticised like the other great stylists of the game
It’s a sporting altruism: The lens of history is unkind to men who step away from the limelight It prefers the showstoppers, not the hardworking, self-effacing players who might have been no less indispensable in shaping history. LikeJorge Burruchaga was to Diego Maradona, like Vava and Didi to Pele, like Arthur Morris to Donald Bradman. Or like Balbir Sigh to Dhyan Chand. They were all heroes, but myth-weavers did not knit sparking halos around the heads. It’s not that Balbircould not dribble or reverse-Flick, but that he thought those were redundant to his function and role.
So while historians consider the eight goals Dhyan Chand stroked in the Berlin Olympics (1936) final as the pinnacle of Indian hockey, the five Balbir scored in India’s 6-1 thrashing of the Netherlands in the 1952 Games was arguably tougher. It arrived at a time when hockey had evolved considerably and against a much stronger and rugged Dutch team, who despite losing the final is credited as a founding father of modem-day hockey, which is decisively more athletic than artistic. But forget them not for without their sweat sacrifice and selflessness, history would have been less historic, legends would have been merely men. Balbir, the man fond of self-deprecation, was a true legend.
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