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Tokyo Olympics: My Rani’s India has finally made a statement for women’s hockey, says coach Baldev Singh | Tokyo Olympics News – Times of India

August 5, 2021
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NEW DELHI: On Wednesday evening, a train from Sirhind left for Ludhiana. A straight-faced turbaned Sikh, almost 70, boarded and took his seat. Three decades ago, his evenings were consumed on the hockey fields. It’s what has given him his life’s content, still does. But this evening was a little nostalgic, actually quite nostalgic, for Baldev Singh — who has spent his life changing the face of women’s hockey in India.
Baldev’s phone had been ringing incessantly since Tuesday. “I hadn’t taken a single call before this,” he said, as the train left Sirhind station.
To know the reasons for that barrage of phone calls, one needs to time-travel — between Shahabad of the ’80s & ’90s and Tokyo of 2021.
Baldev landed in the quaint town of Shahabad Markanda in the Kurukshetra district of Haryana for the first time in 1981. He voluntarily chose it as his city of deputation after getting a job as Senior Coach with the Haryana Government.
Little did Shahabad and Baldev know that the town would find a place in the history of Indian sports as a nursery that triggered a hockey revolution for the women in the country.

Close to 75 international players from the Shahabad academy, including eight who went on to captain India, have been the products of Baldev’s coaching. His stern ways were sometimes questioned, even brought him cautions, warnings and memos, but he never let his effort fall short of the mark, even if he had to go the extra mile. The only thing he asked in return was obedience and discipline from his players.
The best example of that discipline Baldev embedded in his players can be traced in his most successful student and current India captain Rani’s words, when she spoke to TimesofIndia.com back in November 2019.
“If we are running during training, then I don’t miss even a centimetre before touching the line, because I know that it might happen the same way in a match as in training. I may miss a goal by running that one centimetre less during a match and we may lose. If I am practising shooting, it’s my target to hit every ball in the goal so that it becomes a habit, and if I get a ball under pressure during a match, I can score.”
Rani led the Indian team at the Tokyo Olympics. The team reached the semis for the first time at the Games, but lost to Argentina, a 1-2 defeat, and the girls then gave it their all in the bronze-medal match against Great Britain before going down fighting 3-4.

(Rani hugs teammate Navneet Kaur after the latter struck the winning goal against Ireland – PTI Photo)
The pathbreaking success of the team in Tokyo has taken Baldev down memory lane. He is perhaps hit by personal nostalgia, and so couldn’t gather the courage to watch the games despite the fact that three of his students — Rani, Navneet Kaur and Navjot Kaur — are now part of history. Maybe he didn’t want to cry. That’s Baldev, too tough to break down or show overt emotion.
Across the three editions of the Olympics in which the Indian women’s team has qualified (1980, 2016, 2020), this is the first time the team has made it this far. The fourth-place finish in the 1980 Games came in the round-robin format between six teams. There were no semifinals played then.
Baldev may not have been watching the matches regularly, but his conscious mind would always be waiting for the pop-up notifications on his phone’s screen since August 24. He would quietly look at a WhatsApp message or an app alert carrying hockey news from Tokyo, and then act like nothing has happened.
“They have made a statement,” said Baldev, and then took a long pause. “The women have finally cemented their place in Indian hockey, something that I have always urged,” the veteran coach told TimesofIndia.com.
The squad in Tokyo comprises three of Baldev’s players — captain Rani, Navneet Kaur and Navjot Kaur, all products of the Shahabad academy.
“I won’t give credit for the Tokyo performance to any coach but to Rani. She carried and guided the team in Tokyo. She was the difference in this historic campaign,” the no-holds-barred Baldev said about his star student.
“The whole nation is happy, so I would take this opportunity to once again urge for a greater focus on the women’s team. Even when I was a member of the Olympic Task Force, I kept saying that women’s hockey can win medals if we give it more attention,” he added.
Will he be ready to have another crack at it, if given a chance to coach the team?
“Now it’s too late. It’s tough, to be honest,” said the 69-year-old, who also suffered a heart attack a few years ago. “And whenever Rani retires, the team will find it difficult to fill that void because a player of her level is rare to find.
“Back in 2002, the federation’s secretary, Mrs. Amrit Bose, had asked me to take over the team’s reins; but I could not because I was assisting the men’s national team’s head coach Rajinder Singh at that time,” Baldev, who is now retired and lives in Ludhiana, told TimesofIndia.com.
He, however, is currently associated as coach with the Khalsa College in Amritsar, where he keeps travelling to from time to time.





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