Asian Games 2018: "Manpreet Singh is my idol," says wonderboy Vivek Sagar Prasad
Rahul Dravid was in attendance along with India's U-19 cricketers to cheer the Indian hockey team as they took on Japan in the Four-Nations Tournament in New Zealand in January. As Dravid and his colts looked on from the sidelines, two youngsters lit up the pitch with their performance heralding the arrival of a new era for Indian hockey.
Debutants impress at Tauranga
It came as no surprise that Manpreet Singh's side made short work of their lesser-fancied rivals, winning by a handsome 6-0 margin in their very first international match of the year at Tauranga.
What did surprise a lot of folks, however, was the fact that two of the youngest members of the Indian squad scored a brace each to power their side home. Debutants Dilpreet Singh and Vivek Sagar found the net in the opener and did enough during the course of the tournament to repay the faith which their coach had pinned on them.
The latter excelled in his role as an attacking midfielder, delivering vital assists and impressed viewers with his dazzling stickwork against hosts New Zealand and mighty Belgium.
"I was really excited to play that tournament as it was my first with all the seniors. I received a lot of support from the coaches and my teammates as well," said Vivek to Sportskeeda in an exclusive chat, as he recalled the New Zealand tour after wrapping up an intense gym session as part of the Asian Games camp.
That Vivek was a prodigious talent was a well-known fact among hockey lovers in India, but whether he could perform at the highest level seemed to be the unanswered question.
Defying his lack of experience and his young age, the boy from Itarsi wasted little time in making his presence felt. Vivek impressed coach Sjoerd Marijne to such an extent that the youngster was picked for the Commonwealth Games alongside the very best.
"Speed, power, and strength are three qualities which a junior needs to work on after progressing as a senior," said Vivek who celebrated his 18th birthday in February.
"Apart from these areas, I do not feel there are any major adjustments to make when a junior makes it to the senior camp. One has to make use of the same skills in the senior camp also, but the structure may be quite different," he added.
"It is a great feeling for me to be able to perform alongside the players I have idolized", he continued with a twinkle in his eye.
When pressed on who the idol is, the name emanates even before one can bat an eyelid -- "Manpreet Singh," is the instant reply.
A dazzling show at Bangkok
Vivek showed his class at the Youth Olympic qualifiers at Bangkok, which were held just after the Commonwealth Games. He stunned the opposition by scoring early goals against Japan, Hong-Kong China, and South Korea not allowing them any time to settle in.
"My confidence was sky high as I was playing in a junior tournament after having played with the seniors at Gold Coast."
The Hockey 5's format at Bangkok accorded teams the freedom to play a fast and free-flowing game, and Vivek's mesmerizing runs captivated the imagination of spectators. Not surprisingly, he was bestowed with the 'Best Player of the Tournament' award and also ended up being the top scorer of the competition.
Yet again, at the prestigious Champions Trophy, Vivek stook up when it mattered the most and made himself counted.
Tyler Lovell seemed to have constructed an impenetrable wall in front of the Indians in the CT final but was finally beaten by a man 13 years his junior, when Vivek Prasad banged an aerial ball home before the Aussie goalkeeper could even react.
"Harendra Sir told us that we could beat the best at Breda"
"We attacked Australia a lot in the finals. I would say we applied pressure on them for 55 minutes and we got lots of chances to score," said the goalscorer, who reckoned that the Indians had the upper hand in the match.
"We had a lot of faith in each other's abilities. Our coach, Harendra Sir had impressed upon us that there was no one who was better than us (at Breda) and that we had the ability to beat the top teams.
"If a player is told emphatically that he is the best, and his abilities are superior to those of his rivals, there is nothing that seems impossible anymore," concluded Vivek.
The youngster is mature and level-headed enough to admit that while he is happy to have performed well, there is still room for improvement.
"I still have to improve a lot in many ways. I am considering one aspect at a time and enhancing my skills slowly."
Indeed, this is just the beginning for the young virtuoso, who was coached by Ashok Kumar, son of the legendary Dhyan Chand, and if Vivek maintains the tempo, he has, without a doubt, the ability to help his team scale dizzying new heights in the future.