This piece was published in Stick2hockey.com
If there was one thing that was ‘missing’ in the Indian hockey for many years – it was self-belief – something the current Indian men’s hockey team seems to be have in abundance. The national team has had an impressive year so far – don’t remember when was the last time the Indian team exhibited such high degree of consistency – a silver in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, an Asiad gold followed by a Test series win in Australia and to top it all a fourth-place finish at the Champions Trophy aptly sum up the highs the Sardar Singh-led side has scaled over the past twelve months or so.
Midfielder Gurbaj Singh has been a key figure of the Indian team’s success. The 26-year-old played his part in every international tourney this year and left no one in doubt that his return to the national fold was a smashing hit, after being in the wilderness for close to two years after the 2012 London Olympics. “The biggest difference I have noticed since I made a comeback to the side is that the boys are playing as a team. The same bunch of players has been playing for a long while now and there is a great deal of camaraderie among the players, which is helping the team,” Gurbaj says in an exclusive interview.
Gurbaj, who made his senior international debut at the 2006 Doha Asian Games, believes the national team is looking good to churn out more impressive results in the future. “The way we are playing as unit, I’m confident that this team will deliver at the 2016 Rio Olympics. I can’t tell you whether it will be a podium finish or not, but our performance will be good.”
The Punjab Police DSP gets excited talking about the games against Netherlands and Belgium, which he terms as India’s best games of the Champions Trophy. “We really raised our game against the Netherlands and Belgium and came up with memorable results. We fought hard against Germany but the late goal by Fuchs did us in. I thought we dominated the opening two quarters against Argentina and created several scoring chances but did not convert and Argentina made us pay by scoring two late goals.”
There is a line of thinking that the presence of Gurbaj has eased the workload on skipper Sardar Singh, allowing the latter to flourish in the best way he can. “I just try to do my best on the field and if it helps the team’s cause there can be no bigger satisfaction than that. As I said we are playing as a team which has been key to our success in 2014,” he quips.
The Pakistan players’ lewd gesture at the Champions Trophy and their skipper Muhammed Imran subsequently claiming that some Indian players came to their dressing room after winning the Asiad gold in Incheon and abused them caused much heartburn in Indian hockey circles. Gurbaj takes a dig at the Pakistanis. “Tell me if our players had gone to their dressing room and abused them will they allow us to abuse them without responding strongly. These are baseless allegations from Imran. The Pakistanis let everyone down with their lewd act.”
So what will India’s next international engagement? “Well, nothing has been finalised as yet, but I think a tour to New Zealand or some other country may happen before the Hockey World League. Of course, we have the Hero Hockey India League before that,” he signs off.