Olympic hockey gold medallist Gurbux Singh on Monday rated legendary Balbir Singh Senior as India’s best ever scorer and someone who inspired him in his early days. The three-time Olympic gold medallist Singh died this morning at a Mohali hospital at the age of 96 after battling multiple health issues for over two weeks.
“We all considered him (Balbir Singh Senior) as the best scorer India ever produced. And that time India was at the top of the world. Very few people had the kind of scoring ability he had possessed,” the 84-year-old Gurbux, a member of 1964 Tokyo Olympics gold-winning team, told PTI. Singh’s world record for most goals scored by an individual in the men’s hockey final of the Olympics still remains unbeaten. He had scored five goals in India’s 6-1 victory over the Netherlands in the gold medal match of the 1952 Helsinki Games.
Gurbux remembered how Singh inspired him to take up hockey after India won the 1948 Olympics Games gold medal. “I was a 13-year-old in 1948. When we started playing hockey, these are the people whom we looked up to — Singh, Keshav (Dutt), Leslie (Claudius), KD Singh Babu, Udham Singh. We would follow them through newspapers and kept clippings,” Gurbux recalled. “Dhyan Chand was a complete player, Babu was known for his distribution and stickwork, and Singh will be best remembered for his scoring abilities. After him, Keshav Dutt is the last one left from the 1948 batch.”
Gurbux said Singh will also be remembered for his managerial skills as he guided India to win the 1975 World Cup. “He will always be remembered for the three Olympics gold medals he won. People will also remember him for the 1975 World Cup when he was the manager of the Indian team that clinched gold at the World Cup. Like any other sportsperson, he had ups and downs in his career. We failed to win the 1958 Asian Games under his captaincy. Then of course the 1982 Asian Games. He was the manager and coach when India lost 1-7 (to Pakistan in the final).”
The former India defender had the chance to see Singh for the first time on the sidelines of an inter-department police tournament in Lucknow in 1952 and later went on to play against him briefly. “He was playing for the Punjab Police team. I also played against him in 1954-55 during the Scindia Gold Cup in Gwalior and in Delhi,” Gurbux recalled. “I kept meeting him pretty often since then. He was my first camp in charge in Patiala in 1959. He was a strict disciplinarian, a man of few words. We had tremendous respect for him.”
It was only in March this year Gurbux had met Singh for the last time on the sidelines of an awards ceremony in New Delhi. “He was flown in to Delhi after being hospitalised for six months. He could hardly talk. That was the last time I met him and clicked some photos together. We had a lot of fond memories,” said Gurbux.