His indifferent form and doubts over fitness left the selectors with little choice but to overlook him for Commonwealth Games, and instead infuse young blood into the team, but former skipper Sardar Singh has not yet surrendered his comeback hopes.
Fuelling his aspirations, the 31-year-old midfielder was included in the 55-member initial list for the national camp. Ramandeep Singh, another seasoned player who missed the flight to Australia, also features in the list, confirmed India’s high performance director David John on Thursday. “They are on the list which will be pruned to 48,” John said after observing an exhibition match featuring both at the National Stadium.
The selectors’ decision to leave them out seemingly backfired, as they finished a disappointing fourth after losing to 1-2 to England in the bronze play offs. India’s frailty in the midfield, where Sardar, although a bit sluggish, is a clever operator, was visible. Even Ramandeep’s services were sorely missed in the forward line as Akashdeep kept misfiring. “At such huge tournaments, you do need experience. To see India return without a medal obviously makes me feel sad, especially when we have won silvers in the last two editions. I just want to get back into the squad at any cost and help the country to win more medals,” says Ramandeep.
But Sardar feels the exclusion was a blessing in disguise as he got ample time to rejuvenate and start afresh. The break also afforded him time to unwind. “I have been working on my fitness and feel completely renewed at the moment. I was regularly hitting the gym during the lay off period. I think it was a much needed break for me to regroup myself. As for now I am just hoping to make it back to the camp. Mere toh bade bade plans hain, lekin pehle camp me toh aane do,” Sardar says in his typical jovial tone, eagerly awaiting the announcement of the campers’ list.
He, however, chose not to comment on India’s performance at the Games but made his intentions clear that he would like to claw his way back .
However, John backed the team selection, saying it was based on the performances in tournaments in the lead-up to the CWG. “The selection was based on form. They played two of the previous four tournaments. We used those tournaments as a guide to see which was our best and inform team,”
But he admitted that the CWG result was disappointing. “ The plan was to play new Zealand in the semifinal and we achieved that. We were undefeated up till this point and (in the semifinals) we didn’t take our chances in the circle and put pressure on ourselves,” he reckoned. The next seven weeks will be crucial for Saradar as they will be sweating it out at the camp, vying for a Champions Trophy spot. The event begins in the last week of June and will be the last major tournament before the Asian Games.