"Lucky to have made my World Cup debut in front of home crowd," former Indian hockey captain Sardar Singh
"For almost every player, playing at the World Cup is a matter of excitement and I was very lucky that my first World Cup was in India," Sardar Singh said.
With less than 50 days to go for the FIH Odisha Hockey Men's World Cup Bhubaneswar-Rourkela 2023, the anticipation to witness the world's best hockey players at one of the world's most preferred hockey destinations – Odisha, is only increasing by each passing day.
Winner of the Gold Medal at the 2014 Asian Games, a Silver Medal at the 2014 Champions Trophy, and a captain in the Indian Men's Hockey Team, the legendary Sardar Singh, who was part of the 2010 and 2014 World Cup campaigns, recalls his memories from the years gone by.
Considered to be one of the biggest driving forces in the Indian Men's Hockey Team during his playing days, Sardar Singh played his first ever Senior Men's World Cup on home turf in 2010, in New Delhi.
Turning back the clock, Singh said, "For almost every player, playing at the World Cup is a matter of excitement, and I was very lucky that my first World Cup was in India. Playing good hockey in front of our own fans was a great feeling. We played Pakistan in our first game, and I remember the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium was completely packed. And as soon as we lined up, the crowd went berserk, and it immediately lifted us, giving us a boost in confidence."
"That feeling of being supported and encouraged by the home fans when you play well in front of them is unparalleled."
A former captain, who led by example, Sardar Singh led the Indian Men's Hockey Team at the 2014 World Cup which was played at The Hague in the Netherlands. According to him, the team at that time was a very close-knit unit, winning medals at the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games.
Talking about developing that winning habit, Singh said, "The team has to practice hard and for long periods. Look at all the big teams around the world, they've been playing together for a while. To win a medal, there has to be attention to detail, and the team must work together and help each other out at all times."
"When all of these factors come into play properly, and the team does well, and goes on to win a medal, and then to hear the national anthem while standing on the podium – that is a priceless feeling."
When asked about leading the team in a major tournament, Singh said, "I never thought of it like that. Yes, as a senior player, there are certain things that I had to do and look after the team as well, especially the younger players. But for me, all the players in the team count as captains. The thought was always that everyone must communicate clearly through the ranks."
'Indian Men's Hockey Team is a Very Talented Group of Players'
The former captain has played alongside quite a few of the players in the current Indian Men's Hockey Team, and believes that the team is very talented.
"The current Indian Men's Team has been doing well in recent years, and they are a talented lot, with a good structure as well. They should never be satisfied and always be hungry for more," Singh said.
Looking ahead to the all-important FIH Odisha Hockey Men's World Cup Bhubaneswar-Rourkela 2023 in January, the former captain had a word of advice for the team.
"Once the players take the field at the FIH Odisha Hockey Men's World Cup Bhubaneswar-Rourkela 2023, what the player has done previously doesn't matter, they have to work hard from the first whistle to the final hooter, and consistently in every play. Extra effort and focus will be key to the performance, as well as executing the plans correctly. If they can do that, then the results will automatically follow us."