Sardar Singh Has Eyes On 2020 Tokyo Olympics, No Plans Of Retiring
India's senior-most active hockey star is looking towards Olympic glory.
India won bronze medal in Azlan Shah Cup
India will play Canada on June 17
India take on arch-rivals Pakistan on June 18
Sardar Singh, 30, will be the senior-most player (in terms of age and experience) on the field when India begin their Hockey World League (HWL) semi-final campaign against Scotland in their first Pool B match on June 15. India are placed in the pool B with World No. 4, The Netherlands, arch-rivals Pakistan, Scotland and Canada.
"At the age of 30, I am playing the way I started my career and I want to play as long as possible for my country," Sardar Singh told NDTV in an exclusive interview.
"This thing motivates me because the day you think you are satisfied, you won't be focussing on training and matches.
"I have played many tournaments in my career but I think my best is yet to come," he added.
Though India will be without their three experienced players - drag-flicker Rupinderpal Singh, midfielder S.K. Uthappa and regular captain P.R. Sreejesh, Sardar, who will be shouldering responsibilities alongside captain Manpreet Singh, is confident that the young brigade will give a tough fight to the opponents in the HWL.
"Honestly, I never felt that I am a senior. Yes, juniors come to me for advices and tips, but I treat them like as team-mates not juniors. I also make errors during training sessions but I make sure I don't repeat it again. For me, everyone is senior on the field," Sardar said.
After the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup third position, Sardar is confident of India will carry the same momentum in the mega tournament in London.
"Sultan Azlan Shah was the major preparation for this tournament. We have worked on several areas and improved on that as well. We had a training camp. Coach (Roelant) Oltmans has discussed the plans with us and we will execute them well.
"We have a strong core group. The boys are ready to perform and give a strong fight to the top teams," Sardar said.
After Scotland, India will play Canada on June 17 followed by the much-anticipated clash against Pakistan (June 18) and Netherlands (June 20).
Asked about the Pakistan match, Sardar said: "India vs Pakistan is always special. Pride and honour are at stake when the two teams face each other. I know people must be waiting for the match desperately. We just want to win against Pakistan. We have a plan and want to execute on the field."
The tournament will also test India's back-up goalkeepers -- Vikas Dahiya and Akash Chikte - in the absence of star goal-keeper Sreejesh, who is ruled out due to an injury.
"Yes, definitely. He (Sreejesh) is a senior and experienced player. We will be missing an experienced hand. I hope he recover soon and come back to the action.
"In his absence, we have youngsters who will be taking the guard. They have performed really well in the previous tournaments (Junior World Cup, Men's Hockey Asian Champions Trophy and Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. They are talented players and I believe they will do really well," the confident veteran said.
The former India captain also said that the year 2018 will be important for Indian hockey before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
"Before the Olympics, 2018 is very important for Indian hockey. We have a big tournament - the World Cup. Then, we have Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and Champions Trophy. The season is packed but it is going to a huge learning curve for the 2020 Olympics, which is our main aim. We just want to take one step at a time," Sardar said.
Sardar also hailed the introduction of the Hockey India League (HIL) and termed the league as a stepping stone for the young players to enter the national fold.
"HIL has seen overseas players playing with Indian players. Players from Argentina, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, England, are playing in the league. Our players are getting a chance to interact with them and learn the tactics of the sport. The league also has best foreign coaches who are training our players. Indian hockey is on a right track," Sardar added.
Hailing the nation's success in its national sport, Sardar said the introduction of AstroTurf at the junior level has changed the face of Indian hockey. He also credited former India captain Pargat Singh, who came up with the idea of introducing AstroTurf.
"Pargat sir has played really a good role in Indian hockey's development. But, I want to credit Hockey India as well. AstroTurf has changed the face of Indian hockey. Now, we are playing on the same turf being used by other countries," Sardar said.
The Indian hockey star signed off by saying, "Retirement is not in my mind. My fitness is good and I am playing good hockey. Why should I retire? I want to play as long as possible for my country."