World T20 2016 March 21, 2016

Hockey heroes out to ensure cricketers' safety in Mohali

There has been a longish tradition of India hockey players or athletes guarding cricketers at the PCA Stadium in Mohali. The thing is, nobody knows they are being looked after by legends in their own rights

Rajpal Singh, a former India hockey captain, now works with Punjab Police © Sidharth Monga/ESPNcricinfo

When you go to Mohali for the next World T20 match and the police is trying to stop you from reaching your favourite cricketers for autographs, look closely and possibly ask them where DSP (Traffic) Rajpal Singh or SP (City) Gagan Ajit Singh are. Ask for their autographs too. Rajpal is a former India hockey captain, Gagan Ajit a former striker. Both are Arjuna Award winners, but they now work full time with Punjab Police.

There has been a longish tradition of India hockey players or athletes looking after the security of cricketers at the PCA Stadium in Mohali. The thing is, nobody knows they are being looked after by legends in their own rights. Nobody in the crowd knows, cricketers don't know - although it is hard to expect them to scan every cop's face - and sometimes even the other cops don't know that one or two of them has represented India at hockey. Even if you have interest in hockey, it is hard to tell with Sikh players when they are not in gear: they go from patka (bandana) to turban, and the beard is not always tied when they are not playing. Punjab Police is a big employer of sportspeople.

It's only GS Sandhu, the CEO of PCA, who was a decathlete himself and also a vice-president of Indian Hockey Federation, who recognises them at the stadium, among a sea of Punjab Police employees posted there for international and IPL matches. In 1999, during an India-Pakistan ODI he saw the legendary Pargat Singh here. He asked Pargat what he was doing here, and Pargat said he was on duty. Sandhu was surprised.

Sandhu was the manager of the Indian hockey team when Pargat took them to Australia in 1991 for Tests and Olympics qualifiers. Pargat, considered one of the best defenders in the world at his time, went on to captain India at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and in Atlanta in 1996.

Sometime back, Sandhu spotted Sunita Rani here. She has won an Asian gold in 1500m, and also holds the national record in 1500m. She has won an Arjuna Award and a Padma Shri. She too ensured the players' and crowds' safety without anybody recognising her.

Rajpal, 32, has to wake up at 6.30am every day to play his hockey. He is not a part of the national team, which means he has to be on duty just like any other policeman. That, from 6.30am before his duty hours, is the only hockey Rajpal gets to play. The IPL-style Hockey India League doesn't hire players over 30. Rajpal has done a few IPL games here, and is now posted for the World T20 too. He doesn't feel bad that nobody recognises him. He knows hockey is not that popular a sport in India anymore nor is he on TV in the IPL-style league. "Anyway people don't expect a player to be doing duty in uniform," he says. "It is not easy to recognise."

Nor does Rajpal grudge that he has to look after the safety of the cricketers. "I am not doing this as a former India captain," he says. "I am doing this is a policeman. I am a hockey player from 6.30am to 8.30am." He wants to continue being that hockey player in the morning for as long as his fitness can hold. The pride in his job shows in Rajpal. He didn't get an honorary post like, say, Harbhajan Singh, the cricketer, did. He applied for it, went through proper training and exams, and then made it as a policeman.

So google these names, check their images, go up to them. Do selfies. Tweet them. So that the next time there is a cricket match in Mohali, Sandhu shouldn't be the only one recognising them.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo