New Delhi: Disappointed with the state of Indian hockey right now, three-time Olympic gold-medallist and former captain Balbir Singh (Sr) feels among the current lot of players, only Sardar Singh would have found a place in the Indian teams that competed in the golden era.
In an interaction with PTI journalists, Balbir spoke of his utter dejection at the game`s current state and the issues plaguing Indian hockey.
"Sardar Singh is the only player of that standard. Not all of them. Had other players been as good as Sardar Singh, then they would have been somewhere at the top," Balbir said of the halfback, who was the only Indian to be named in the FIH`s world XI recently.
The octogenarian, who will turn 90 later this month, holds the world record for most number of goals by an individual in an Olympic final, an astonishing five that he scored in the 1952 summit clash against the Netherlands.
Revered as the greatest centre forward to have played the game after the iconic Dhyan Chand, Balbir said the current set of players don`t have the skills to match the ones who made India an eight-time Olympic gold-medallist.
"If they had the skills, they would have won. They can be at the top again. Practice is the only key, not only schemes, not only money, the players need to develop individual skills, and practice hard," Balbir said.
"They can come up to the standard provided they try and follow the latest rules, follow their coaches, we need highly paid coaches, highly qualified coaches. Then we should be at the top, among the top 4-5 team," he added.
"Practice, it`s the key...There were times when we used to score from penalty corners. Individual training is important. Time and again, we used to practice penalty corners. Excellence is not an art but a habit," he said.
Besides, Balbir said he also senses a lack of desire to excel among those playing the game now.
"They are money-minded these days, that is normal also because money is required. Money is very important," he said.
Balbir said the changes in playing conditions in international hockey has not helped India, which has lagged in adapting to the altered dynamics of the game.
"The playing surface, we don`t have astro-turf everywhere. Only very few venues (in India) have it, whereas they (the other international teams) are trained right from their childhood on artificial turf," he pointed out.
"In Holland, there are so many artificial turfs. The playing conditions, then equipment, they are very costly these days. The equipment should be provided by the federation. The federation should do more to promote hockey," said Balbir.
Talking about the nuances of the game, Balbir said the most jarring aspect of the current players` game is their tendency to keep dribbling in the midfield instead of looking to make a winning pass.
"In the middle, we dribble too much there, we waste time. It`s easy to dribble in the mid-field. You can move anywhere. The aim should be the other end, reach there, dodge close to the circle enter the D and try to score," he said.
"At that time, defenders are close, it`s very difficult to dodge. Those who dodge there, they are more successful. We play for the opponents, we give the ball to them. Possession of ball is very important. Those who have better ball possession, they win the match.
"Possession creates opportunity to take the ball to the opponent`s goal...Everything has changed. We used to play on natural turf, now astro turf, equipment has changed," he explained.
Asked if the Indian players were pulled back by a mental block against top teams, Balbir laughed and said it was just a case of carelessness and lack of skills.
"Perfect passes, goals, corners come with repeated practice. If I can do it, any individual can do it. It`s our job to get the ball. Hard work is very important. As we say, physical fitness, technical fitness, tactical fitness and mental toughness. Most important now is mental toughness," said
"If we are confident and strong, think positive, the top is always vacant, try and reach there. If you are confident, there would not be any mental block," he added.