Rutvick Mehta: Indian hockey captain Sardar Singh tells Rutvick Mehta that his low price tag at this year’s HIL auction doesn’t bother him
Sardar Sardar Singh says his target remains to play good hockey for the country Getty Images
The Hockey India League (HIL) auction threw some surprises. You were picked up by the Punjab Warriors for $58,000, which is $20,000 less than your price for the first three seasons with the Delhi Waveriders. What are your thoughts?
I am happy to go to the Punjab Warriors. The good thing is that I’ve got an opportunity to work under Barry Dancer, who is the best coach in the world. Even in terms of players, there is Mark Knowles (Australian defender) and a few other Australians. And we will be playing against them at the (2016 Rio) Olympics. So it’s a good move for me. It’s a good time for me to play with them and learn a few things from them. But otherwise, all my focus right now is on the national team, the upcoming New Zealand tour and the crucial Hockey World League Final (at Raipur in November). Having said that, the HIL will be a great platform for us to learn things individually and as a team before the Olympics.
Were you disappointed that from being a marquee player three years ago, your name didn’t even figure in the top 10 list of the highest buys this time? Youngsters like Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh and Gurmail Singh were more in demand than you…
Look, it doesn’t matter to me, honestly. For the last three years, I was getting a good price of $78,000 playing for the Delhi Waveriders, and the team did well under me too. So I’m happy that our Indian youngsters got a good price this time, and they should take this as a positive sign. There will be responsibility on them now (to live up to the price tag). They will have to do really well, and I hope they do. I hope it motivates them. As for me, I have no problems. My target will remain to play good hockey for the country, and play good hockey for a long time.
But do you think your low price was related to aspects like age, form and skills, or are auctions a completely different ball game?
(laughs) Look, it depends. What I feel is that most franchises go for Australian and German players, who are the top teams in the world. They look to get players from there. Baki sabka apna apna nazariya hota hai (everyone looks at things differently). So if they have spent so much money on a particular player, they must have a solid reason behind it.
People were quick to jump and say ‘This shows Sardar is no more the force he was’. How do you react to such statements?
No one needs to say anything, my hockey will show what I still am. Sab log bolte hai (Everyone talks). No problem. There are ups and downs in normal life as well. My performance for India in the last 10 years, I would say it has been consistently more than an average, normal player. That is still my target. I have never been destroyed physically either during training or during a match. So I want to keep myself fit for as long as I can. Everything depends on fitness. If I maintain myself well, then I see no reason why I should stop playing.
Moving on from HIL, the Indian team leaves for a six-match series in New Zealand on Monday. What will you look to extract out of the tour?
We don’t have much time left for the Olympics. So whatever training sessions we have now, we are trying to put in our best in that. All the players should know what will be expected from them at the Olympics right from this moment. We need to start making improvements in areas that we are lacking in. So the focus now is more on training sessions, team meetings as well as individual player meetings. As far as the New Zealand tour is concerned, it will be a good opportunity for us because they will be at their full strength. And a full strength New Zealand team is always good competition.
How is the team shaping up under Roelant Oltmans? Does it help that he knows the team for a long time now?
Absolutely. I think Hockey India (HI) made a fabulous decision in appointing Oltmans as the head coach. Most of the coaches that come from outside take time to settle down, understand the team, the players and the Indian culture. Oltmans has been with us for more than three years now as high-performance director. So he knows how we were shaping up under different coaches, and how each one of them trained us. So he has not suddenly changed the pattern. He’s added a whole new set of exercises and skill learning techniques in our training, which has been really helpful. So we are really enjoying under him.
You say he hasn’t changed a lot of things. So is the team still following former coach Paul Van Ass’s 10 on 10 strategy?
Yes, it’s the same. I won’t reveal a lot to you in terms of our tactics. But yes, we are still focusing on the 10 on 10 strategy, where there shouldn’t be a gap between a defender, midfielder and forward after the ball is passed. You have to keep yourself in the play always.
Oltmans is known to focus on defensive play as a coach. Are you hopeful that the team’s defence, which has been the weak link, will tighten under him?
Absolutely. We are working on our tackling skills on an everyday basis. It basically comes down to how we tackle and stop the opposition forward as a defensive unit. So yes, we are working really hard on that, and we have a long way to go still. But one thing is certain, the players are really working harder than before.