The recent exposure tour of the Netherlands was a handy examination for the Indian team ahead of the 2014 World Cup, which will be held in The Hague from May 31 to June 15. And one man who is richer with the Dutch experience is burly drag-flicker is Rupinder Pal Singh. “Overall, the trip was a big learning curve – we fought hard in all the matches and the experience will definitely stand us in good stead for the World Cup,” he says in an exclusive interview.
The 23-year-old defender was one of the finds of the Netherlands tour, scoring five goals. The muscular fullback equalized for India against Belgium, a game which the former lost 1-2. Rupinder also gave India an early game against the much-fancied Netherlands in their final practice before the Dutch pulled up their socks to win 2-1.
The national team has shown the signs of not just staying ‘competitive’ against top teams, but also beating them. The memories of India beating Olympic champions Germany at the 2014 Hockey World League Final in New Delhi are still fresh. Rupinder feels that India would have to be mentally ‘strong’ while playing against top teams like Netherlands, Australia and Germany. “I don’t think there is any skill gap – it has more to do with our mental make-up – we have to be strong mentally and I’m sure we can beat top teams. Most of your boys are in the 22-23 age bracket and once they gain more experience, I have no doubt that Indian hockey will go places,” he remarks.
The Faridkot lad, who honed his hockey skills in his formative years at the Chandigarh Hockey Academy, reckons the team is teeming with self-belief. “This team have loads of self-belief – all the boys are a confident lot and back themselves to match the best in the business,” he says with a bullish tone.
How does he assess India’s World Cup chances? “Look, all the participating teams are going into the World Cup thinking they will do the best to win it, but it is only one team that will eventually win. Obviously, we will be leaving no stone unturned to live up to the expectations of our fans, but on a personal level I think a top-six finish will be a good achievement for us. Just keeping our fingers crossed,” the Indian Overseas Bank (IOB) employee harbours hope.
The Terry Walsh-coached India team have the luxury of four top-notch drag-flickers – Vokkaliga Raghunath, Sandeep Singh, Gurjinder Singh besides Rupinder – something not many international teams have. “You are right, we have a potent group of drag-flickers. Sandeep is one of the world’s best drag-flickers, while Raghunath is an extremely handy option – Gurjinder is also a bright prospect. If we get our act together, India will hugely benefit in PC routines, says the six-foot four-inch player.
Rupinder, who made his senior international debut in the 2010 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey Tournament, is more than happy to raise the performance bar all the time. “I don’t easily get satisfied. Complacency is the last thing in my mind. I want to pick new tricks of the trade and follow what my coaches tell me to do and try to implement them on the pitch,” the Delhi Waveriders player says matter-of-factly.
The big man from Punjab has fond memories of the 2011 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey Tournament where he was the top-scorer, which included a sizzling hat-trick against Great Britain. “I have fond memories of the 2011 edition a year after my senior debut in the same tournament. I have special memories of my hat-trick against Great Britain” recalls the youngster, who was a standby in the 2010 Commonwealth and 2010 Asian Games squads.
Nicknamed ‘Bobby’, Rupinder loves to gorge on European food. “The Dutch trip gave me an opportunity to try European food. I have a penchant for European food as it is healthy and less oily,” says naughtily as he signs off.
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