Making a comeback to the national team is never a piece of cake given the cut-throat competition for places. Staying positive and slogging out the hard yards are the best things a player can do in such a scenario. Out-of-favour Indian midfielder Gurbaj Singh is striving hard to let his performances do the talking and at the same time keep his chin up.
The 25-year-old Punjab lad, who has made more than 150 international appearances, dished out a power-packed performance in the recently-concluded Hero Hockey India League for 2014 champions Delhi Waveriders, winning the coveted Man of the Match award twice (against Kalinga Lancers and Uttar Pradesh Wizards).
Gurbaj indeed played his part in ensuring the Cedric D’Souza-coached Delhi outfit clinched its maiden HIL crown after finishing second-best to Ranchi Rhinos in the inaugural edition last year. “I’m elated to have contributed to Delhi Waveriders’s 2014 HIL triumph. I just enjoyed myself on the pitch and was happy with my showing. Hockey is a team game and every team member chipped in – all the strategizing by our coach and the team management really worked well for us,” Gurbaj said candidly in an exclusive interview.
The sturdy centre-half last wore the national blue jersey in the 2012 London Olympics, where India settled for a worst-ever wooden spoon finish. In fact, Gurbaj is among four players (skipper Bharat Chettri, Ignace Tirkey and Tushar Khandker being the other three) from the 16-member London Olympics squad ignored thereafter.
The Punjab Police DSP attributes his good run in the 2nd Hero Hockey India League to months of sustained training before the commencement of the event. “I have been regularly playing in departmental tourneys and keeping myself match-fit. Tournament or no tournament I always do my own training with utmost sincerity,” he quipped.
Has he done enough to merit a call-up to the Indian team for the 2014 World Cup? Gurbaj chooses his words carefully. Look, to be picked in the national side is not in my control. I can only do what is in my control – stay fit and perform. I’m extremely passionate about hockey and it hasn’t changed one bit just because I’m out of the national team. I’m ready to serve my country whenever an opportunity comes along.”
Gurbaj, who led the Indian junior team to Asia Cup glory in 2008, was at his flowing best in the 2nd HIL controlling the midfield, orchestrating searing runs from the flanks and essaying razor-sharp crosses, creating openings for the forwardline as well as stonewalling the opposition raids with immaculate defending. “Our coach Cedric D’Souza focused a lot on our defence. Tightening our defence was one of our game plans and it worked to a nicety for us. Our coach really got the best out of our players and he deserves all the credit for our HIL glory,” he gushed.
Gurbaj made his senior international debut against Bangladesh in the 2006 Doha Asian Games. He gradually became an integral part of the national team. He was part of the Indian team which made a podium finish in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup for four consecutive years. Gurbaj was a member of the national team, which won the gold in the 2009 and 2010 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup besides garnering a silver and bronze in the 2008 and 2007 editions respectively. He was also named in Asian All Stars XI in 2010.
Surely two stints in the HIL must have done a world of good to his game since he has been out of the national reckoning.“Definitely it has helped to raise my game by a few notches. Playing alongside guys like Oskar Deecke, Nicolas Jacobi, Simon Child and Lloyd Norris-Jones, Matt Ghodes and Sardar Singh always gives you an opportunity to learn so much tactic-wise and skill-wise. I can only getter better in future,” says the midfielder who is a product of Jalandhar-based Ramesh Chander Hockey Academy.
Only time will tell if Gurbaj has done ‘enough’ to attract the attention of the selectors and boards the flight to The Hague for the Rabobank 2014 World Cup.