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Charanjit Singh, Captain Courageous (8/2/2008)
Charanjit Singh’s name was not in the Indian Hockey Federation’s probables list for the 1960 Olympics. But his superlative display of talent at the Bombay Gold Cup, the Aga Khan Gold Cup and the National Championship, all held in Mumbai successively in 1959, made the IHF to take note of him. As a second thought, Charanjit was drafted into the probables bandwagon. Since then no look back the talented mid-field maestro.

But getting into team was not easy. There were ten midfielders in the Hyderabad camp, with two sure shots in Leslie Claudius and Keshav Dutt. All other 8 midfielders vied for just a single slot, Mumbai’s Joe Antics leading the pack. However, as Keshav Dutt pulled out the squad due to captaincy tussle, Charanjit and Joes made it. At Rome, Charanjit, despite being junior to Joe, played all the matches till he was injured in the semis. Many attribute India’s loss at the final to his absence.

Within two years from the Rome disaster, India lost the first Asian Games gold too. Therefore, preparations for Tokyo Olympics were earnestly taken up. First step was to make Charanjit, who was then a student of Amritsar Agriculture College, the leader of the team.

Under the new captain, India won the biggest event held outside Europe, the 12-Nation Ahmedabad Invitation Tournament. Then came the Lyons International Tournament in which all the 12 teams that would play the 1964 Olympics hockey event participated.

These wins helped India to establish its supremacy once again. The Indian players, who had faced a lot of flak for losing the Asiad and Olympic titles, regained their confidence. Lyons’ success was a superhit. A group of European journalists declared India the best team of the world. On return, the team was taken in procession. Captain Charanjit was awarded both Arjuna and Padamshree honours.

Before the team in form left for regaining the Olympic gold, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri told the team frankly, “See young men. If you lose the gold, people will say after Jawaharlal Nehru India is not doing well. I don’t want to hear anything like this. So in your winning lies my prestige”

Shastri keenly followed Indian hockey and came to our team striking gold at Rome when he was attended a public rally at Gurgaon, a suburb of Delhi. He immediately got up on the stage and announced, “Hockey players have kept up their promise given to me”.

Charanjit claims the Tokyo gold was a team work. As a captain, he saw to it everyone in the team gives their best. “I had to do many things towards this objective -- clever field placement, shifting some to safe place when not in their elements to keep the tempo”, he recollected for ‘Great Indian Olympians’.

India won all the matches at Tokyo. Yet, the winning team got anything on return. “Probably because the Punjab Government announced a flat after the Lyons’ win. Of course, we are yet to get even that”, Charanjit rued sitting in his beautiful countryside bungalow in Una, Himachal Pradesh.

“Country’s honour was our foremost concern, not just gains”

Charanjit announced his retirement in 1965 to join in a plum post in the Amritsar Agriculture University.

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