NEW DELHI: His fitness can still trump that of the best of players on the international turf. But Hockey India has maybe spotted something else which not many others could see, since Sardar Singh hung up his hockey stick towards the end of 2018.
The mercurial playmaker, who also led the Indian team during his 314-caps-long career spread across 12 years, received a call from Hockey India a couple of weeks ago. The next thing the hockey world knew was that Sardar was appointed as the coach of the India ‘A’ men’s team.
The concept of an ‘A’ team is not a usual one in Indian hockey. It’s a seemingly forced decision, necessitated due to the close proximity of the Commonwealth Games (July 28 to August 8) and the Asian Games (September 10 to 25) later this year. Because the Asian Games carry the greater significance as an Olympic qualifier, the federation decided to send an ‘A’ team to the Games in Birmingham and not risk any of its main-team players.
The gold medal-winning team at the Asian Games qualifies for the Olympics as the continental champion.
But the concept of India ‘A’ carried a lot of requirements, including finding a coach. Sardar, who also serves as a DSP with Haryana Police, has been entrusted with that responsibility, and some of the just-retired senior players, including Tokyo Olympics bronze medallists Rupinder Pal Singh and Birendra Lakra, have reversed their decisions and returned to be among the list of India ‘A’ probables.

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The camp began in Bengaluru this Monday (March 7), with Sardar joining his boys two days later, on Wednesday.
A day before he took the flight to Bengaluru, Sardar got on a call with TimesofIndia.com to talk about a development that left him “surprised”.
Sardar Singh, coach of India ‘A’. How did that happen?
Around 10 days ago I received a call from Hockey India. After that I had detailed talks with the family. Everyone felt there can’t be anything better than this. It is because of hockey I am what I am today. So it’s an honour to coach the national team.
Were you surprised to hear about the offer?
Definitely, I was surprised. But I thought about it for a good 2-3 days. As you know, I want to start an academy (to get into coaching) but requirements for the same, for which I had requested the Haryana government, were not coming through. Baba ji ne mehar kitti (God blessed me) that I have got this big opportunity for a major tournament like the Commonwealth Games. Now we have a few months’ time to prepare for it.
But there must be some background to this development…
Hockey India has been asking me for some time to join its coaching programmes. I also wanted to do it, but due to my training (with Haryana Police), I couldn’t take out time for that.

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How long is the current contract going to run for?
My contract as India A coach is till the 2022 CWG for now.
Have you got all the permissions needed from your employer, Haryana Police, in place?
I met the DG and other officials of the Secretariat. They understand that there’s nothing bigger than the country. The DG was very happy when I met him with a request for necessary permissions.
Now that the contract has been inked, how do you look at the task at hand, especially with no previous coaching experience under your belt?
I will put in a complete effort. I have been involved in international hockey for 12 years and played overseas leagues, so I have that experience. Plus, an Indian (coach) always understands the mind of Indian players. I want to bring the team together, have good communication with the players and take help from senior players. There will be ups and downs in matches as well as in training, but everything will depend on how we manage those as a team.
Talking about experienced players, some big India names in the list of probables are coming back from retirement. What necessitated that, or was it a voluntary decision by players?
When I got the offer from Hockey India, they told me that some of the senior players will be returning (from retirement) for India A. But I don’t know anything (more) about that as I haven’t had any conversation with the players. I will join the camp tomorrow (March 9), then we will discuss. But I don’t know if it is the players’ decision or they have been requested by Hockey India.

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How do you think their presence will help the team, especially since they had quit the game already?
It’s good that experienced players are there, which will benefit the youngsters. Olympic medallists Rupinderpal Singh and Birendra Lakra, and SV Sunil as well as Ramandeep Singh, they will make a huge difference and be of big help to me as well.
Have you thought about what your first move will be after reaching Bengaluru for the camp?
Firstly, I will find out the positives of every player, then look at the aspects needed to be developed, how to play a particular player and so on. For example, there may be players who are not able to perform as well in matches as they do in training, so how to help such good players achieve that objective. As I said, we will need to move ahead as a team.
Will there be any build-up tours for India ‘A’ ahead of the CWG?
The schedule is not out yet. Once I join the camp, we will take it from there as per the guidelines of Hockey India.
You had plans to open an academy in Canada. Are those plans still in place?
The plan is on, whenever I get time. There is the United Brothers Club (in Surrey, British Columbia). I visited them as well and am in talks with them for a tie-up. Next summer, I will try to be at their camp to share my experiences with the Indian community (involved in hockey) there.

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