The tag ‘lucky captain’ sat easily with Charanjit Singh. He earned that during the 1963 hockey tournament in Lyon where India had a triumphant campaign.
Charanjit was the captain and Dhyan Chand our coach. Goalkeeper Shankar Laxman and myself were Charanjit’s deputies.
The Lyon success prompted the hockey officials to make him the captain for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. We still had not digested the loss to Pakistan in the final of the 1960 Rome Olympics and there was revenge in the air. But on the eve of the final, Charanjit asked us to show restraint and concentrate on the match rather than indulge in one-upmanship with the Pakistan players.
Coming from a player who was at the receiving end of our arch-rivals’ onslaught — in the 1962 Asian Games final he played with a fractured nose — everyone was taken aback. I stood up and said, ‘if Pakistan restore to dirty tricks on the field we would give them back’. A sort of tit-for-tat, I had said. We avenged our 1960 defeat with a 1-0 win. According to me, the 1963 Lyon triumph started the golden period for us, which lasted for three-four years.
Not known to be an extraordinary player, Charanjit was gutsy and courageous. Inside our own 25-yard circle, he was like a king. His defending was top class and he never allowed our rivals even an inch.
In the 1964 Olympics, Mohinder Lal (right-half), Charanjit (centre-half) and myself (left-half) were together in every match. I had to play as a left-half after senior players requested me to man the left side which was not one of our strongest positions.
As a captain, Charanjit’s task was not easy. He had to deal with seniors like Udham Singh and Haripal Kaushik, but he came out with flying colours. Udham had already won two gold medals (1952 Helsinki and 1956 Melbourne) and one silver (1960 Rome), while Haripal had one gold (Melbourne) and one silver (Rome). In front of such stalwarts, any captain would have become nervous but Charanjit got along well with everyone.
Even though he was not that talkative during team meetings, Charanjit drove home his points without much fuss. Charanjit was very democratic, may be his education — he was an alumnus of Col Brown Cambridge School in Dehradun and Panjab University — played a role in shaping his amiable character.
The 1964 gold medal-winning batch is dwindling. Harbinder Singh, Darshan Singh, Dharam Singh Junior, Ali Sayeed and myself are some of the members who are still here to recount those best days of our lives.
(As told to Angshuman Roy)

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