Dabang Mumbai may not have been able to clinch one of the four semi-final berths at the 2016 Coal India Hockey India League (HIL), but its youngsters surely left an indelible mark. Confidence, passion and fighting spirit were shown in abundance by the trio of Nilakanta Sharma, Gurjant Singh and Affan Yousuf as they contributed during some keys moments of The Alphas’ campaign this year. Without a doubt, they established once again that India’s future in hockey looks very promising.
Here’s a look at the trio’s exploits at the 2016 HIL:
Swift on his feet and in his thinking, 20-year-old Nilakanta Sharma has been the standout youngster of Dabang Mumbai this season. After being a part of the gold medal-winning Indian squad at the 2014 Sultan of Johor Cup, the Bhopal player has shown a desire to constantly learn and improve, which justifies his fast rise. Even Dabang Mumbai’s head coach Jay Stacy pointed that out just a few days back.
“From our practice games, I found him to be improving, and so brought him into the squad. There are areas in his game which need to be worked on, but Nilakanta is young and has all the time,” Stacy said.
At the recently-concluded 2016 HIL, the midfielder was among the three Mumbai players who scored two field goals each, right after the German star Florian Fuchs. His talent was on full display against the defending champions Ranchi Rays during The Alphas’ league encounter at Mumbai.
After suffering four defeats on the trot, Mumbai was staring at another as the score was 3-4 in favour of the Rays. But it was Nilakanta’s confident strike off a pass from skipper Matthew Swann that put them into the lead. His efforts were rewarded with the ‘Best Goal’ and ‘Emerging Player of the Match’ awards after Mumbai’s victory.
Nilakanta came to his team’s rescue once more when The Alphas were trailing the Delhi Waveriders 2-3 at Delhi. His field goal gave the confidence to his teammates to add two more field goals that saw them win 8-3 in a record-breaking goal-scoring spree.