The Padma Shri is a much-deserved honour that has been bestowed on Gurcharan Singh, one of the finest cricket minds India has known.
His ability to spot talent has given Indian cricket some outstanding players, and rarely has he taken credit for the same.
“I only guide them. They perform and bring me joy. My role is not at all as vast and exacting as theirs,” was Gurcharan’s humble response to Sportstar.
He would be the first to reach the National Stadium and the last to leave in darkness, his devout bunch of ground staff in attendance, sometimes a few players too. That is what the NIS (National Institute of Sports) coaching centre meant for him. He had single-handedly created the nursery for cricketers in the Capital to come and learn the basics of the game.
In the early 80s, National Stadium was host to many other disciplines, and it became untenable for the others when cricket balls would hit a basketball, volleyball or gymnast trainee. Gurcharan convinced the authorities to shift the rest and leave the field exclusively for cricketers. This was in 1981-82, the beginning of a coaching revolution in Delhi.
Gurcharan devoted his time to tending the ground and laying out outstanding pitches for practice. The centre pitch was a beauty- for batsmen and bowlers alike. It became the venue for the Reliance World Cup camp for the Indian team in 1987. In 1996, the West Indian and Sri Lankan World Cup teams trained at Gurcharan’s ground. He took immense pride in the praise that came from many iconic international cricketers.
Born in 1935 in west Pakistan, he migrated to India with his parents in 1947. A first-class cricketer with Southern Punjab and Indian Railways, he became a NIS qualified coach in 1969 and served until 1995
Surender Khanna, Kirti Azad, Maninder Singh, Vivek Razdan, Kartik Murali, Ajay Jadeja, Gursharan Singh, Gagan Khoda, Rahul Sanghvi, Nikhil Chopra, Sunil Valson, Vijay Mehra (UAE) were among the well knock trainees of Gurcharan. He had also honed left-arm spinners, Pradeep Jain and Sukvinder Singh, both making their mark in domestic cricket. His list includes hundreds of cricketers who played for different states in the domestic circuit.
India great Kapil Dev always looked forward to the facilities at the National Stadium. “Gurcharan Singh has played a fantastic role as a coach and teacher not only to me but also to a dozen international and hundreds of first-class cricketers,” said Kapil in glowing appreciation for the veteran cricket guru.
The Dronacharya Award in 1987 was followed by cricket assignments with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and a stint in the Maldives Islands, but Gurcharan’s awards came in different shapes. A player earning a first-class cap made him happy. But he was “thrilled” when his wards would land jobs.
From providing the playing kit to paying the school fees for many of his needy trainees, Gurcharan has been a revered figure in Delhi’s cricket circles and outside the Capital too. I have known him to accompany his trainees to their trials and interviews for jobs, driving them on his motorcycle and ensuring they did their best. He would plead with various employers to give his students jobs in sports quotas, and the list of grateful students is unending.
“I have never aspired for honours. If they came it was because I was blessed with some amazing students,” said Gurcharan, who has been flooded with congratulatory messages from India and overseas. His annual trip to England, Wales and Scotland with the Delhi Blues team was an education for the young cricketers in life lessons and developing a cricket culture in the team.
An affable personality, ever ready to help even a stranger, Gurcharan has never compromised on discipline and work ethic. He once refused to accommodate a request from a powerful Member of Parliament to provide batting sessions at the cost of his trainees. On another occasion, he sent off an Indian cricketer during a camp for not reporting in whites. “Had I not been strict, the coaching centre would have suffered because Delhi is full of influential people who make unreasonable demands of exclusive access to the ground,” said Gurcharan.
The 87-year-old Gurcharan still reports at his Academy in a school in east Delhi at 5.30 in the morning, his loyal ground staff assist him in keeping the field and pitches in a “ready state” for the many boys and girls who flock to receive his blessing and guidance.
Only recently, he went to a play at a cricket academy launched by Sukhvinder Singh, one of his loved trainees. “We were shocked when he insisted on batting, and we were floored to see him steal a single. He also fielded for a while. What an inspiration he continues to be for us all,” said Sandeep Joshi, a former Haryana cricketer.
Not the one to bask in past glory, Gurcharan accepted the newly-earned status of a Padma Shri with humility that has marked his career. The morning after the Padma list was announced, he was off to his academy at Arwachin Bharti Bhawan School. The journey for this unassuming and celebrated cricket guru continues.
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