Gurcharan Singh ‘Guchi paaji’, doyen of Delhi cricket coaching, honored with Padma Shri

I first had the opportunity to meet Gurcharan Singh, Guchi paaji as he is affectionately referred to by his admirers, in 1978-79 at the National Stadium in the Capital where he was running nets and training some 50-odd boys.

He at once impressed me, not only as someone famous for his eye to spot young talent, but for his discipline and hard work. Even after these 40-45 years he hasn’t changed at all. He still looks fit and works hard with his trainees. I still can see the passion for the game in his eyes.

Gurcharan Singh is a man of few words. He may be 87 now. But he is as fit, if not fitter, than some of his 100-odd trainees at the Dronacharya Cricket Academy in Arwachin Bharti School In Vivek Vihar (East Delhi). Gurcharan Singh is as sound, and as enthusiastic as any of his young trainees.

A Dronacharya Awardee, he richly deserves the Padma Shri being bestowed on him by the Indian Government for his selfless service to the game. He has spent all his life faithfully serving cricket.

During my 40-odd-year association with Guchi Sir, as I still call him with reverence, I always found his zeal unmatched. Being a resident of the same locality, I have often seen him leave his Ramakrishna Apartments in IP Extension every morning around 8 am on his bike for his academy. Whether it was summer’s torching heat or December’s biting cold, he never missed his routine.

I have been witness to several instances where he has gone out of the way to promote a talented youngster. He has even convinced some parents to change the boys’ school so that the player can realize his full potential in a cricket-friendly atmosphere.

Once, when I asked him why he didn’t take a break from such hard work at his age, his reply was: “I am what I am because of cricket. It has taken me places, introduced me to some wonderful people in life, and taught me to be humble. As long as my body permits, I would like to continue my mission.”

He added: “Hard work has always been my motto. When you are on the field, you never feel that you are past your prime. I move with the young and it keeps me motivated.”

I personally know several instances where Guchi paaji has gone out of the way to get talented cricketers jobs in various PSUs. “They cannot survive on cricket. They need a decent job for their future,” he often said.

He has gone through several ups and downs in his life. From a young boy who rose from the ashes of the 1947 partition, Gurcharan Singh has, through sheer hard work, made it to India’s most revered mentor of young cricketers. Even after almost three decades of retirement from the Sports Authority of India as the chief cricket coach, Gurcharan Singh is still as active as ever.

He not only survived the 1947 partition days, but the 1984 Delhi riots almost set the clock back for him. Thanks to the timely help of his trainees, Gurcharan Singh survived the ordeal thanks to some of his trainees, who shielded him from the furious mob.

Guchi Paaji was almost broken when his younger son met with a serious accident many years ago. The father spent several anxious months as the son recovered slowly. To come out of these personal disasters, one needs courage. Guchi paaji had courage and will-power in plenty.

Over the years, he has trained generations of cricketers, including a dozen who went on to represent the country at the highest level: Surender Khanna, Kirti Azad, Maninder Singh, Sunil Valson, Vivek Razdan, Nikhil Chopra, Ajay Jadeja, Gursharan Singh, Murali Kartk, Gagan Khoda, Rahul Sanghvi and Vijay Mehra (who played for the UAE national team). And hundreds of others who represented different states in Ranji Trophy.

“My job was to guide them. They worked hard to earn the national colors,” was his humble response.

Some prominent Union ministers during the 1980s-90s, including Bhagwat Jha Azad and Madhav Rao Scindia, Surender Singh (MP) were regulars at the National Stadium nets. They had high regard and respect for his sincerity and dedication.

There were murmurs in some quarters at that time that Gurcharan Singh favored sons of VIPs at his training center. He, however, refuted the charge with “If they are talented and willing to work hard, I train them regardless of where they come from. In fact, I have rejected some boys from the so-called influential families as I found them not willing to work hard enough. They must have hunger for the game in their bellies.”

Guchi paaji has always been a disciplinarian to the core. He never tolerated any nonsense or indiscipline on the field.

Bishan Singh Bedi, himself a tough task master, has very high regard for Guchi paaji. “His single passion and dedication in life has been cricket. Guchi paaji has been an example of humility and good old human values. He has been a selfless servant of cricket,” was how the legendary cricketer described the famous coach.

I have had several discussions with him on his passion and he used to narrate his early career in the game. Cricket opened up new opportunities for him.

A right-handed batsman and right-arm off break bowler, he first played for Southern Punjab and a century against Railways in the Ranji Trophy altered his life forever. He joined the Railway team, which had half-a-dozen players representing India, including Lala Amarnath, Dattu Phadkar, BBNimbalkar, Nari Contractor, Budhi Kunderan and Vasant Ranjane.

Besides the National Stadium chief coach, he donned many caps. He was also the director and chief of Gwalior pace bowling academy. He had a 2-year stint with the Indian team when Kapil Dev was the captain. He was also the head coach of Maldives in 1985.

During his stint with the National Stadium Cricket Center (NSCC), he used to take some young boys and a couple of senior trainees on cricket tours to England every two years to give the players the kind of foreign exposure they would not have otherwise got.

Gurcharan Singh has played this mean role in the spread of the game in Delhi and has an immense contribution to enriching the talent pool of cricket in North India.

Despite being in the limelight for so long, Guchi Sir remains calm. “There is so much to learn from this game. One life is not enough,” Guchi Sir often remarked. Such passion and dedication. A great salute to the Dronacharya of Cricket.

S Santhanam, veteran sports journalist who has followed the Delhi cricket scene for over 40 years, writes about Gurcharan Singh, an institution in cricket coaching, who has been bestowed with the Republic Day national honor

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