Year in Review 2020, Biggest Sports Stories: Indian hockey's grand old man, Balbir Singh Senior, passes away

Balbir arguably led the limitless pantheon of country’s hockey stalwarts, and his passing leaves a mighty hole in Indian hockey firmament.

FP Sports December 23, 2020 09:23:40 IST
Year in Review 2020, Biggest Sports Stories: Indian hockey's grand old man, Balbir Singh Senior, passes away

Editor's NoteIt's that time of the year already. Every end comes with an opportunity to look back and reflect, and while 2020, by general consensus, was a forgettable affair, sports did manage to conjure some moments of lasting relevance. From Liverpool ending their Premier League title wait to the mighty Indian cricket team crashing like never before in Adelaide to the passing away of some of sports' all-time greats, the field of play, even in a truncated calendar, produced a fair share of shock, surprise, and awe. In Firstpost's latest series, we take a look at some of the biggest sporting moments of 2020.

It is 25 May, 2020. Sweating, sweltering, simmering. It is COVID-19 ; relentless, inexorable, undefeated. What could possibly be worse? The phone beeps one early morning, and without a trigger warning, the announcement arrives in five words of ruthless finality. Thus broke the news of the passing away of the genial giant of Indian hockey. Balbir Singh Senior – he, of fluffy white beard and red turban, of effortless goals and three Olympic golds, of 95 years of blissful life and a lifetime of memories – gone.

Death puts life in perspective, no matter how enriching, celebrated, or demanding. You see hope fighting its way through medicines and intravenous tubes, through wistful smiles and hearty laughs, through a doting pet and a rickety hockey stick perched by the bedside, and you feel a sense of permanence, until one May morning, it fizzles out on a hospital bed.

Those fortunate to have spent some time with Balbir do not remember him for his six goals on Olympic debut or five goals in the 1952 Olympics final alone. Sporting achievements, even as mighty as Balbir’s, do not define you. Sure, he will be revered for his peerless skills, but remembered for the boundless joy he brought to a newly-independent nation still struggling for relevance.

Year in Review 2020 Biggest Sports Stories Indian hockeys grand old man Balbir Singh Senior passes away

Balbir Singh Senior passed away on 25 May, 2020.

It is important to note that he was a witness to the largest, and perhaps the bloodiest, mass migration in human history. A clutch of his friends from Amritsar’s Khalsa College – Maqbool Hashmat, Aziz, Shahrukh, Ali Iqtidar Shah Dara, and Khurram, all of whom would represent Pakistan with distinction – went to their new country, but that did little to diminish their bond. Balbir held no grudges, harboured no biases, and the cross-border bonhomie blossomed well into their sunset. In polarised times as these, such virtues and such tales are rarer by the day.

Speaking to Balbir was an education. Blessed with an elephant’s memory, he could reel off names of his long-dead colleagues and opponents, and to the utter amazement of this writer, remembered each of his Olympic goals and how he scored them. An old-school disciplinarian when it came to training, he also guided India to their only World Cup win (1975), and introduced the concepts of nutrition and scientific training to Indian hockey.

Balbir arguably led the limitless pantheon of country’s hockey stalwarts, and his passing leaves a mighty hole in Indian hockey firmament. He wanted India to win an Olympic gold, and while that may take a few years coming, one can be rest assured that he’ll be egging the national team on from a different place.

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