On Saturday, 21st of January 2017, Gurbaj Singh returned to play in the premier event of hockey in India – Hockey India League (HIL), that has become a festival of sorts for players across the globe and fans alike.
The midfield maestro has had a rebellious career so far and it wouldn’t have been easy for him to stage this comeback. A hardworking year coupled with some good performances have allowed him to silently work his way to be ultimately picked up by the Ranchi Ray’s franchise.
Gurbaj was the talk of the town after Ranchi Rays decided to buy him for a whopping $99,000. He was the costliest Indian and overall player in the HIL auction! His presence would help to bolster their midfield and his combination with coach Harendra Singh would be one to watch for.
With an ever hungry desire to excel, he would use this platform to resurrect his career. Going by past tournaments, many have been fast-tracked into the national team based on their superb performances in this tournament.
— Ranchi Rays (@RanchiRays) November 16, 2016
But what brought about this stark turnaround of events for a player who was out of the national team and facing disciplinary issues?
The rise and fall of Gurbaj Singh
The tussle began in the World League semifinals in Antwerp, Belgium in 2014. India had qualified for the finals that were to be held in India and in all probability the right-half was preparing himself to play the Rio Olympic Games. However, to everyone’s surprise, he was labeled as being undisciplined and for creating disharmony in the coach Jude Felix’s report. Consequently, Hockey India debarred him from playing any national hockey tournament for 9 months.
A hard decision on someone who is known to question coaching tactics and have animated discussions with his colleagues. Unfortunately, he has been hogging the limelight for all the wrong reasons over the last few years.
“It felt like they had already believed I was guilty before the hearing began. It’s disappointing but I am hopeful of finding a solution to this. I don’t know what made them file this report. I can’t think of doing anything that would harm the team. My aim is be in the squad for the Olympics.”- Gurbaj Singh on the 9 month ban imposed by Hockey India in Aug 2014.
Gurbaj Singh’s exile from hockey ended after the court ruled in his favor and overturned his ban. He returned to the domestic hockey setup after the revocation of a nine-month ban on him for indiscipline. It was his solo fight that made him believe in himself and one that brought him here!
The veteran midfielder was recalled to join the men’s hockey squad that was coached by BJ Kariappa and led by Mandeep Antil for the 12th edition of the South Asian Games that were held in India. The Indian men’s team had to settle for a silver after losing to arch-rivals Pakistan. This team was not full-strength but gave a tough fight to each opponent. But despite some encouraging performances on the field, Singh was not considered for the national team yet again.
The Olympic dream
The ace midfielder watched India’s campaign at the Rio Olympics from home. He missed the opener against Ireland as he was traveling abroad but tuned in to see the India-Germany clash on television at his Jalandhar home. The ace midfielder always wanted his team to make a podium finish, despite being considered the country’s best right-half. The Punjab Police DSP was on national duty either at national camps or playing tournaments and wished his fellow Indian team mates good luck.
“It doesn’t matter whether I’m in the team or not – they are all my team members and I want them to make the country proud by winning a medal in Rio. I’m fit as ever and always ready to serve the country.”- Gurbaj Singh wishing the India hockey team for Rio 2016 Olympics.
The comeback trail
Prior to the Hockey India League, Gurbaj decided to use club tournaments for the transition back to the first team. He capitalized with a stint at the Malaysian side Sapura HC in the Hockey League’s Premier Division in late 2016 to be in the reckoning for an India call-up. En-route to the runners-up finish in the TNB Cup, Sapura also finished second in the league standings. Gurbaj was the standout performer, scoring in each leg of the semis against Maybank. His performances brought the attention of the national selectors as he was immediately summoned to the core group of 30 players.
Earlier in 2016, Gurbaj Singh’s Punjab side also made it to the semifinals of the Hockey India-organised 6th Senior National Men Hockey Championship (A Division) in Safari. Leading from the front as captain, Punjab won four straight ties concluding the final encounter in Pool C with a 7-0 mauling of Jharkhand.
In the safe hands of coach Harendra Singh
“I was highly impressed by his tackling and dribble. He had the same skills as Pargat Singh; the same dodge and I knew he would be a big player.” – Harendra Singh recollecting the time when he first saw Gurbaj play at the Ramesh Chand Academy as a 13 year old kid.
On the bidding day, the Ranchi Rays management zeroed in on the midfield maestro because he suited their defensive structure. Perhaps, this was the reason why they decided to go all out to get him. After all, he is the best right-half in the country!
Under the watchful eyes of Harendra, Gurbaj Singh will mature into a complete player keeping his calm yet tough demeanor to dictate terms on the field.
Fit and super-hit!
Gurbaj Singh despite being in his late 20’s has maintained his fitness levels playing across multiple tournaments. Another aspect is the wealth of experience he brings to the table with his tactical nous making him the man to watch out during Ranchi Ray’s HIL 2017 campaign.
His fighting spirit shows what a tough character he is both on and off the field! He is exiled currently from the national team but being picked up for Ranchi, that too as the highest bid speaks volumes for the talent that lies in the player.
Let us all wish him luck as he intends to use the HIL to slingshot back into the national team!
“The expectations have grown manifold because of the bid. So have the responsibilities,” says Gurbaj. I have never let controversies off the field affect my game on it. Since childhood, I’ve always wanted to play for my country. That has been my passion. It still is!” – in the words of Gurbaj!