One of the best right-halves of the 1970s, Varinder Singh breathed his last in Jalandhar on Tuesday.
Singh, 75, was a gold medallist at the 1975 Kuala Lumpur Hockey World Cup and won bronze at the 1972 Munich Olympics. He was also a member of the 1973 World Cup team that won silver.
Varinder was born on May 16, 1947 in village Dhannowali near Jalandhar and Ajitpal Singh, captain of the World Cup winning side, recalled his association with the deceased.
“When Varinder came to the Indian hockey team, he was my room-mate till our last tournament together. He was the gentle giant of the World Cup winning team and the most disciplined and honest hockey player of his time,” Ajitpal said.
Varinder played as a right-in early in career, and was recruited by Indian Railways in the late 1960s.
“One of his strengths was the ability to control the ball wherever he was on the field. He would surprise defenders with his speed.”.
In light of the tragic passing of the great Hockey player Shri Varinder Singh, we pray to the Almighty to grant the departed person’s soul eternal rest and to provide the family members the fortitude to endure this irreparable loss. 🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/s7Jb5xH0e3
— Hockey India (@TheHockeyIndia) June 28, 2022
At Railways, Varinder got the opportunity to play with the likes of Balbir Singh Randhawa and 1964 Olympics gold medallist Harbinder Singh. During the Nationals and other big tournaments, Varinder would be pitted against a Punjab team, which boasted the likes of 1972 Munich Olympics bronze medallist Harcharan Singh or the Services team, which boasted the likes of 1968 Mexico Olympics bronze medallist Balbir Singh Kular. Harcharan, who played with Varinder in the national team for more than six years, remembers their duels at the domestic level.
“Varinder would become one of India’s best right-halves and I would be considered one of India’s best left-in wingers. During the Nationals and tournaments like the Nehru Gold Cup, it would be a duel between us.”
Varinder started his six-year-long international career when he was selected for the 1972 Munich Olympics as a reserve for Kular.
“When I replaced Mohinder Lal as right-half in the Indian team, the presence of Varinder and Krishnamurty Perumal made sure that I didn’t get complacent. He was a very attacking half-back but developed as a right-half. He was very good in recoveries and setting the pace of the game,” says Kular.
Varinder was also part of the teams that won silver at the 1974 and 1978 Asian Games. “During the 1970’s, the way he would tackle players like German Michael Krause and Dutch Ties Kruze apart from Pakistan’s Saminullah Khan spoke about his talent,” Harcharan remembers.
At the 1975 World Cup, Varinder played an important part in India’s 3-1 win over Germany in the pool stage, a must-win game. Ajitpal rates Varinder’s performance against Germany as one of the best he has seen.
“The Germans were marking Ashok Kumar. On seeing that, we decided to pull back Kumar and asked Varinder to play as right-in and right-out. Such was Varinder’s speed and dribbling that we broke the German defence.”
Varinder would later coach the Punjab and Sind Bank team for six years in the 1980s and was conferred the Dhyan Chand Lifetime Achievement award in 2007. In 2008, he joined the Punjab sports department as a coach and worked at the grassroot level till last year before joining a private academy.