India’s hockey players have a role model within their ranks and should look at play-maker Sardar Singh for inspiration, says coach Michael Nobbs.
Sardar has stood out among the fumbling Indian players, continuously feeding the strikers from his centre-half position and also bolstered the defence that has repeatedly shown signs of crumbling under the slightest of pressure.
“Look at Sardar Singh and the effort he puts on the field. Even when things have gone wrong for the team, he has played his heart out,” says Nobbs, facing the enormous task of getting the team spirits up for India’s last match which they need to win to avert a bottom place in the 12-team Olympic Games hockey competition.
Nobbs acknowledged that his players had struggled in India’s return to the Olympic Games after missing out on the qualification for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
The coach said the Indian players had improved their fitness following an extended training programme, but they were unable to produce the game they were capable of.
“Sardar is an exception. Thank God he’s in this team and had played the game expected from someone representing his country,” Nobbs said.
“If only the other players had been inspired by seeing the effort he has put in,” said Nobbs of the star mid—fielder, who made his Olympic Games debut soon after receiving a stinging blow just under his knee during India’s tour of Europe before arriving in London.
But he was back on his feet, training for the Olympic Games within a few days, and never allowed that injury to curb his domination of the midfield.
Nobbs accepts that there is a huge difference in Sardar’s game and those of several others in the team.
As the team continued to suffer one defeat after another, Sardar made a comment that the Indian players seemed to be having some problem in mental conditioning for tournaments of this level.
“If Sardar says it, he is probably right,” said Nobbs, who has also acknowledged that the Indian players did not show the heart for a fight when confronted with rivals who were bigger physically.
Nobbs said he understands Sardar’s frustration at the way things have gone.
“When you have a role model like Sardar in the team, the players ought to be inspired by his presence and his game,” the coach said.
India finished at the bottom of Pool B after losing all five matches. They were the only team not to have gained a single point and had conceded three or more goals in every match.
Under the rules for positional playoffs at the Olympic Games, there will be a direct encounter between the teams of two pools who do not make the semifinals.
South Africa, India’s opponents in the playoff for the 11th and 12th spots on Saturday, were the last-placed team in Pool A. Even South Africa drew one of their five matches to gain a point.
Eight-time gold medallists India’s previous lowest position in the Olympic Games, other than not qualifying for the 2008 Olympics, was the No. 8 finish at Atlanta in 1996.