New Delhi [India], Jan.13 : The 45-day long break for the Indian senior men's hockey team after their tour of Australia in November last year has done a world of good for Sardar Singh, who is perhaps India's most prolific midfielders and senior most players in the Indian squad.
"I think this has been the longest break we have got in a while. After a hectic year, with the 2016 Rio Olympics, this break was personally very good for me as it helped me relax my mind, spend some time with family and also work on my fitness," stated the former India captain.
Sardar showed exemplary performance at the 2016 Asian Men's Hockey Champions Trophy in October when he set up the 55th minute goal against South Korea in the semifinals that earned India 2-2 parity after they had trailed 1-2.
His wizardry enthralled hockey lovers world over and also invited praise from chief coach Roelant Oltmans who singled out the star midfielder's performance in ensuring India's remarkable comeback.
India eventually won the coveted title beating Pakistan 3-2 in the final. "This break has helped me introspect on my game and how I want to shape my career going forward. Presently, my first aim is to make the probable list for the national camp in March," asserted Sardar, who will join his team Jaypee Punjab Warriors camp on January 14.
The 31-year-old will lead the Jaypee Punjab Warriors campaign in defending the title at this year's Hockey India League (HIL).
"This year's Coal India HIL will be crucial for me as I can assess where I stand and what I need to do to improve my game further.
I am inspired by players like Jamie Dawyer of Australia who stayed on top of his game till he was 35-36.
So, I don't think age is a concern. My target is to stay fit physically and mentally till the 2018 Men's World Cup in India. I want to be on top of my game at the Coal India HIL and ensure a good start to the year," he stated. Speaking of his team's chances of defending the title in front of home crowd, as the HIL finals will be played in Chandigarh, Sardar said their chances are bright but would like to take one-match-at-a-time.
"On paper I think we have the best team and haven't subjected to many chances like other teams. We are the same team, including the coaching staff, from last year so we understand each other better.
But it's important to start the tournament with a win and carry on the momentum. I think the week-long camp before our first match will help the team come together as one unit," said the Padma Shri awardee.
Sardar Singh further emphasized that the Junior Men's team's performance at the recently held Uttar Pradesh Hockey Junior World Cup Men Lucknow 2016, is the result of good governance and professional approach to the game in India.
"I think the introduction of Coal India Hockey India League and the professional approach in running the system, the kind of money being invested in the sport has done a lot of good to hockey in India.
This approach also motivates players and in the past two years, the junior team has done exceptionally well and going forward they will showcase the winning mentally.
When you know that you are No.1 in the world, you enter the field feeling like a champion and that mentality will make a big difference," he added.
Jaypee Punjab Warriors will begin their title defence with the first match played against Dabang Mumbai on 27 January in Mumbai.
The HIL is slated to be held January 21..