The Feisty Sardar

In August 2006, when Indian Hockey star Sandeep Singh was accidentally shot while on his way to Delhi, all seemed to be lost. The incident had taken place barely days before he was supposed to travel to Germany for the World Cup with the national squad.

The spinal injury and the following three quarters of the year proved to be diffcult for him, Sandeep would bang his head on the wall of his neighbourhood gurudwara, repeatedly cursing this unfair twist of fate. Yet, the feisty sardar knew that hockey was his calling. Coupled with rock-solid support from friends and family, he scripted a remarkable recovery. Playing for Chandigarh Dynamos, he was one of the best defenders playing in the Premier Hockey League. He also established himself as a feared drag-flicker. At last he made it back to the national team for the champions challenge in Belgium. But an anti-climax was waiting to happen.

His return was bumpy and he found himself being sidelined. It was a long wait of almost a year before he hit the high road of being in form again. His relations with national coach Jaoquim Carvalho soured and he had to spend a longer period waiting for a recall. Carvalho’s reason for keeping him out was said to be his attitude coupled with his lack of recovery as a defender, though the coach had no complaints about his value as a drag-flicker. Raghunath and Diwakar Ram were drafted to do Sandeep’s job. Sandeep kept proving himself in the domestic circuit and emerged as the top scorer in the Premier Hockey League. Yet, the coach was unimpressed. The selectors made feeble protests when he was left out of Olympic qualifiers.

The Santiago Olympic qualifiers, as is common knowledge, was the biggest debacle in Indian Hockey when India failed to qualify for Beijing Olympics – a first in 72 years. Carvalho and the IHF ran for cover and soon were uncovered in a TV sting which showed IHF secretary accepting money for selection. IHF was dissolved and a newly elected selection committee brought back Sandeep for the recently concluded Azlan Shah Cup.
This was Sandeep’s opening and he drove a bus through it, scoring nine goals in the competition and leading the young Indian team to the finals. It is a pity though, that he still is not recognized in his hometown or the places he visits and in this age of overpriced cricketers, he is still financially weak. He sustains himself on his meager Indian Airlines job. The company, incidentally, also helped him monetarily in his injury days. He repaid the favor by being the top scorer for them in all the domestic hockey competitions post his return.

Prateek Kapil