Debutants galore: Onus on young guns in the European Hockey tour

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Here’s looking at the young guns; some debutantes and, other stories surrounding the team as they face some of the top two competitive sides of the world in the European Hockey Tour.
The tour begins in Boom, Belgium as the Indian side take on hosts Belgium on August 9 in the first match. They play their next match the following day before moving to Waalwijk, Netherlands to face the Oranje side on August 13 and 14. After a rest day on India’s Independence Day, it is followed by the conclusive game of the European tour as India play Austria in Amstelveen, Netherlands in the fifth and final match on August 16, 2017.

The young guns

In the 18-member Indian Men’s Hockey Team for the tour of Belgium And Netherlands, a whopping third are first-timers!

“There cannot be a better feeling than being selected for the Indian team, so it’s truly special!” – Goalkeeper Suraj Karkera who would be competing with fellow custodian Akash Chitke for a place in the final playing eleven.

But how easy was it for each one of these uncapped players to earn their maiden call-up? Here are their riveting stories so far.

Tirkey Tadka

Dipsan Tirkey in defense was a name long missing from the senior team. But that will not be the case soon, now that the youngster has made the cut! He had to wait a lot but he has he earned his spot with some calm performances so far.

A borrowed hockey stick was more than enough for him to practice hockey due to his family’s difficult financial condition. He counts his elder brother Prashant, as his biggest inspiration and learned his defensive skills at the State Sports Hostel in Rourkela in 2009.

The 19-year-old first broke into the junior ranks at the 2014 Sultan of Johor Cup. He was picked by the Kalinga Lancers franchise in Hockey India League (HIL) later that year. He also led the junior side at the Eurasia Cup in Russia and England tour in July 2016. Recently, he was also the vice-captain and the youngest member of the Indian squad that won the Junior World Cup 2017.

Ambitious Armaan

India’s upcoming forward Armaan Qureshi in action against Belgium at the Junior World Cup (HJWC-2016) in Lucknow as his teammates look by. Hockey India

Arman Qureshi is a half-back from Madhya Pradesh. The forward was coached by Ashok Dhyan Chand, son of Dhyan Chand, in Bhopal after giving trials for Sports Authority of India hostel in 2008.

Qureshi currently plays for the Punjab Warrior and had represented the Delhi Waveriders in the previous two editions of HIL.

“In many ways, I feel the league was a turning point in my career and that confidence I was able to carry right through the year which resulted in us winning the Junior World Cup,” said Armaan.

Gurjant – The Giant

The 6’1” tall and well built Gurjant Singh would leave no stone unturned in his maiden appearance for the senior national side. Incidentally, he picked up hockey at the age of 11. His achievements include Golds at the Junior Asia Cup 2015 and Junior World Cup 2016 along with being the runners-up at HIL 2017.

“Playing for India is every player’s dream and whenever we play for the junior team, we also think about getting the senior call-up. Getting this opportunity and to start my experience with the Indian senior team while playing in Europe will help my game.” – striker Gurjant.

The 22-year old lad hailing from Amritsar in Punjab would like to form a good partnership up front with Arman Qureshi. The duo will unite with another comrade from the 2016 Junior World Cup, Mandeep Singh, and hope to come out all guns blazing. We can expect rich returns from this partnership.

Voracious Varun

Joining Dipsan in defense is the reliable Varun Kumar who would be raring to unleash his ferocious drag-flicks.

It all started when he represented his home state Punjab in the Junior National Championships in 2012. His performances were superb which ensured that he was selected for the junior national team.

However, injuries had a fair share in Varun’s career as soon after the tournament, Kumar was not in action for around two years. But this time, his performances at the 2014 Junior National Championships were superb and that led to him being recalled to the junior national team.

Moreover, he was India’s top-scorer at the Four-Nations Invitational Tournament in Spain, just before the junior world cup. Varun played for the Punjab Warriors in this year’s HIL having being retained twice after his selection in the first draft back in 2015.

Never-failing Nilakanta

Nilakanta Sharma is another one from the fledgling hockey house of Manipur. He would look up to the experience of vice-captain Chinglensana for all tips to quickly assimilate into the team.

Sharma who hails from Imphal East, started playing hockey in 2003. The midfielder played for Posterior Hockey Academy Manipur until 2011 and later switched to Bhopal Hockey Academy. He was selected for the national junior team for the 2014 Sultan of Johor Cup and represents the Dabang Mumbai in HIL.

Show-stopper Suraj

Suraj Karkera hails from Bandra in Mumbai and first played for the Children’s Academy School (Malad) in the MSSA’s inter-school tournament. He later joined Rizvi College in Bandra itself and graduated from the Bombay Republicans, an outfit led by Mumbai and arguably Indian hockey’s most famous servant, Marzban ‘Bawa’ Patel! Fortune didn’t favor him much in the beginning and there were times where he didn’t even get a chance to play. However, things soon turned in Suraj’s favour at the Willingdon Catholic Gymkhana (WCG) rink hockey tournament, the same year as he put up a superb show.

Suraj happy and posing after winning a local tournament. Suraj Karkera

It was soon that Karkera got his first senior national call up to represent the Mumbai team in Pune, 2015. With excellent reflexes and a beaming confidence by his side, his performances went a notch higher in every tournament. The Bandra boy was soon drafted into the UP Wizards side in HIL where he was under the watchful eyes of current Indian coach Roelant Oltmans.

For Karkera, this has been a quit a long and anxious wait coupled with the agony he had to face with those injuries. Incidentally, he was picked up earlier in the year for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup (April 29–May 6) only to miss out due to an ankle injury during the training camp, just a week before the team’s departure to Malaysia.

“I look up to Adrian D’Souza. My teammates here refer to me by his name only. They call me Addu. My debut is against two of the world’s top hockey-playing nations, so it’s almost a baptism by fire. But I’m ready for it,” he says.

Roaring Rohidas

Another talented defender and drag-flicker Amit Rohidas has been picked in the squad. This was after his exploits at HIL 2017 season with eventual winners Kalinga Lancers! At a place plagued by electricity shortage during the initial years, Amit is the shining light. He purchased electronic appliances for his family post the conclusion of HIL league.

Rohidas hails from the same village – Saunamura as former Indian captain and current Member of Parliament (MP) Dilip Tirkey. He idolized him (and does still) when he first picked up hockey with the local boys.

In 2004, he joined Panposh Sports Hostel in Rourkela representing them (and continues to) in several district and state-level tournaments. Soon he was in the junior national team (2009) and represented India in the Under-18 Junior Asia Cup Hockey, held in Myanmar.

“There was an inter-village hockey match in my village and our team lost the match. I was extremely dejected. From then on, I decided that I would play hockey and make my village proud one day.” – Amit on why he chose hockey.

The experienced chaps

India’s Rio Olympics captain and goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh firmly believes in injecting youth in the hockey setup. Hockey India

Manpreet Singh has yet again been given the responsibility of leading the side with Chinglensana Singh being his deputy. A majority of senior and key players like Rupinder Pal Singh, SV Sunil, VR Raghunath & PR Sreejesh ( to injuries), Sardar Singh (whose off-field problems continue to bother him) and others who featured in the World League Semifinal have not been picked so as to give a chance to fresh faces.

Training in full swing

In the recently concluded World League Semi Final, India put up some great showing during the group stages only to lose their focus in the knockouts; the first one being against lower ranked Malaysia in the quarter finals. They recovered quickly by thumping Pakistan 6-1 in the 5th-8th playoffs which came after the 7-1 mauling they gave them in the group stages! However, what followed was completely disastrous.

India finished 6th after losing to lowly Canada.

Head coach Roelant Oltmans knows that matching the high standards consistently would be key for India to be in the top 3 sides of the world.

“The team has been training in SAI Bengaluru where we have been working on improving our counter control and defence apart from working on variations that can improve our goal scoring,” Roelant Oltmans.

Also read: Will an experimental Indian team be crowned Sultans of Azlan Shah Cup?

The team will end their training campaign on 5th August and are scheduled to play five matches as part of their European tour against Belgium and Netherlands who are ranked above them.

Future goals

The vision is clear; to groom a competent side for not only the Asia Cup later this year but also for the 2017 Men’s Hockey World League Final and next year’s Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup both in Bhubaneswar. Especially such a young team was picked in order to give talented youngsters an opportunity to gain experience. And, this tournament acts as a perfect place to test and select the right mix of players who would form the crux of the 2020 Olympic team.

Here is a look at the latest men’s hockey rankings:

“We will continue to test some of the younger players in this tour in order to give them the international exposure in this new Olympic cycle. It is important for the youngsters to face top teams like the Netherlands and Belgium early in their career which will undoubtedly benefit our long-term goals,” Roelant Oltmans.

We hope these players express themselves on the field to the maximum and more importantly enjoy the opportunity, after all the hard work that they have done to reach here and one which they all truly deserve!

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Editor : Vishal Bhalla Bhalla

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