This piece was published in Stick2hockey.com
Rupinder Pal Singh is the ‘Rock of Gibraltor’ in the Indian defence. He defends as his life is depended on him and strives hard to score goals from his lethal drag-flicks off penalty corners. The 23-year-old Indian fullback has been a fulcrum of the Indian side in recent times and has twice emerged as the top goal-scorer at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the Incheon Asian Games.
The Indian Overseas Bank (IOB) employee spoke in an exclusive interview.
Q You played a big part in India winning the Asiad gold, even overcoming a hamstring injury along the way. You had a few days rest and now you are back training for the upcoming four Test series against Australia?
It was a good break after the Asiad in the sense it allowed me to recharge my batteries. I attended quite a few felicitation programs during my stay in hometown in Punjab as well as in Delhi where Hero honoured us for our Asiad exploits. I’m now staying focused on the upcoming Australia tour.
Q You emerged as the top goal-scorer in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games as well as the Incheon Asian Games. So you must be enjoying the responsibility of being the prime goal-scorer for India.
Well, every player likes to contribute in a team’s win and I try to do my bit in scoring goals through my penalty corner drag-flicks. I’m enjoy the responsibility of scoring goals for my team, but that’s not the only role I perform, I have even a bigger role of defending and keep the opposition at bay.
Q How important is it for a fullback to be a complete player, where the team banks on him not just for his drag-flicks during penalty corners, but also rely on him to blunt the opposition?
No player can survive in the side by just being a good drag-flicker as no team can afford that luxury. There could be times when a team may not win a short corner throughout the whole game and in such a fullback whose main forte is drag-flicks is rendered ineffective. In modern hockey a fullback has to be a solid defender and then comes scoring goals off PCs; basically you have to be a sturdy defender with drag-flicks as your potent weapon. I’m working hard to be a complete defender.
Q You and Vokkaliga Raghunath form a lethal drag-flick combination. Is there any healthy competition between you two?
No, not at all. We play as a team and help each other out whenever. Raghubhai is a great exponent of drag-flick and I have a lot of respect. He is a great teamman and at times tells me to take the drag-flicks during penalty corners if he feels he is not confident to take them. We get along well and always try to do things for the betterment of the team.
Q How do you rate India’s chances against Australia in the upcoming four Test series?
Australia are a tough side and we will look not to build too much expectations and just play our natural game. We have played Australia in last couple of years and you must have seen how we narrowed the gap of winning margins. At Glasgow we lost to them 2-4 to them in the league and it was a contest where we gave them a good fight.
Q The year 2014 has been a good one for Indian hockey. India stunned Olympic champions Germany in the Hockey World League Final Round in Delhi, pipped higher ranked New Zealand in the semifinals of the CWG in Glasgow, followed by silver and gold medal wins in CWG and Asiad.
It has been a good year. Barring the World Cup, we have done this year; we hope to build on this and become a better side in the future. The boys have put in a lot of hard work and the results are there to see.
Q India are ranked ninth in the world, but do you think India has the ammunition to beat most sides ranked higher than them?
If you take the top three – Australia, Netherlands and Germany, I’m confident that India can beat sides like England, Belgium, New Zealand, Argentina and Korea. If we keep playing to our potential, these teams are not difficult to beat.
Q How do you look at the bigger picture – 2016 Rio Olympics?
We still have two years to prepare. I believe if we have Terry Walsh as coach and the boys continue to put in the same amount of hard work they are putting now, there is no doubt that this team can do well in Rio. At least a semifinal appearance is definitely a possibility, off course a lot of factors are and with a bit of luck riding our way we can surprise a lot of teams.
Q Are you satisfied with the financial rewards handed out to the players after the Asiad gold winning performance?
Well, the government is doing a lot for us, but corporate houses must come forward to support us. Hero honoured us in a great way but there is a need for corporate to lend their sponsorship help for the national hockey team.