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Asian Games 2018: 'Not scared to put my body in the line of the ball,' says Indian defender Amit Rohidas 

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485   //    06 Aug 2018, 11:05 IST

<p>
Amit Rohidas (center) and the Indians after the CT final

When Sjoerd Marijne's fledgling outfit took on the might of the Olympic gold medalists at the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia earlier this year, a potential hammering for the Indians was very much on the cards. The only seniors in the squad were Sardar Singh, SK Uthappa and Ramandeep Singh, while the other 15 were nowhere close to the 100-cap mark.

Peillat's hat-trick versus Amit's brace

A full-strength Argentinian side earned two PCs, one each in the first two quarters, and as expected, goal machine Gonzalo Peillat converted both to give his side his a 2-0 lead. Field goals were proving hard to come by for either side, and India's regular drag-flickers Harmanpreet Singh and Rupinder Pal Singh were not at Ipoh.

A couple of minutes after Peillat's second goal, India earned their third PC, and Ramandeep stepped up to take the push. Amit Rohidas at the second battery swung his arms, stepped forward, and beat Vivaldi with an almighty strike to the right of the goal. A minute after half-time, he did much the same foxing Vivaldi with a flick to the extreme right.

Much to the disbelief of many spectators, the Indians had drawn level thanks to Amit's heroics. Peillat had the final say scoring yet again to ensure that his side emerged victors but Argentina was well and truly shaken by Rohidas' brace. The man himself was elated and recalled the moment with a great sense of pride.

"We were not able to score field goals in that match. After a detailed analysis, the coach came up with a plan of action. He told me that the Argentine goalie was vulnerable on the right side and that we should try and direct the flicks to the right. It was very satisfying to beat the Argentine goalkeeper who is an Olympic gold medalist."

Ipoh to Gold Coast to Breda - and on to Jakarta too!

A full-strength squad was announced for the Commonwealth Games just after the Azlan Shah Cup. Amit Rohidas was one of five players retained from the 18-member squad that played at Ipoh. A coach swap and still more chopping and changing following a disappointing show at Gold Coast ensued before the Champions Trophy.

Only two Indian players have managed to play all three major tournaments this year- one is Varun Kumar - the other is fellow-defender Amit Rohidas. What's more, both Varun and Amit will be in Jakarta too when India defend their Asian Games gold.

At Breda, the 25-year-old from Odisha was rock solid at the back as the Indian defence stood firm amidst an onslaught from Belgium and Holland.

In the opener of the CT, Pakistan was desperately looking for an equalizer at the end of the third quarter when they earned their first PC of the match. Mubashar Ali who had scored at the death against the Indians at Gold Coast was lined up to take the flick.

Amit Rohidas stormed out, sprinted straight at Mubashar, and was just a couple of steps away from the flicker when the powerful shot was taken. The gritty defender took the full impact of the blow on his upper arm and the ball ricocheted to safety way over the post. He grimaced momentarily and had to sit down clutching his shoulder but was back up in no time and resumed his duties at the back line.

When asked how he manages the daring runs, his answer is simple.

"When I represent my team and my country, there is nothing to be fearful about."

In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, the Odisha lad reminisces about his journey in the world of hockey, the role of the Hockey India League in fostering his talent, and what drives him to succeed in the face of stiff competition.

Here are the excerpts of the interview:

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Amit executing his drag flick at Ipoh

"Even when I went to school, I carried the hockey stick with me"

SK: Tell us a little about your young days and how you started playing the game.

Amit: In Sundargarh, most people play hockey and apart from playing hockey there are not many other options. My father used to play hockey and my elder brother too is good at the game. I loved holding my father's hockey stick from the time I was 4 and used to drag it along with wherever I went. I did not own a ball then so I used to climb trees and use fruits or any round objects to play with.

I started out as a goalkeeper and kept playing as one for quite a long time. Even when I went to school, I used to make sure I carried the hockey stick with me. When I was in the second standard, we used to play matches against the third standard students. We used to keep playing till late in the evening and this was our daily routine back then.

I joined a hostel in Rourkela in 2004 and the first thing I told my coach was that I wanted to be a goalkeeper. My coach was reluctant and told me that I was too short to be effective as a goalie and so I began as a right out. I kept playing as a right out for a year but hardly ever used to get the ball.

It was then that I decided to become a defender. I observed a player executing a drag flick and became quite fascinated by the movements. I do not recall his name but I began practising drag flicks in right earnest. I started flicking on a grass pitch under the watchful eye of my coach, and he gave me basic instructions on how to improve.

I was selected for the U-18 Asia Cup camp at Bhopal where AK Bansal was my coach. I did well to start with and scored quite a few goals off drag flicks. When I first joined the senior camp at Lucknow, I was simply overjoyed. Birendra Lakra and Ignace Tirkey were in the team then. I had also seen Dileep Tirkey play.

I speak to Dileep Tirkey a lot when we meet, and also on the phone.

SK: Most players from Odisha excel as defenders and this is true of both the men's and women. Is there a reason for that?

Amit: I do not really know although it is quite true (bursts out laughing). Most of the players from my state are defenders. I wish I knew why as there does not seem to be any obvious reason for that.

"Azlan Shah Cup was a turning point in my career"

SK: You started the year with the Azlan Shah Cup tournament in Malaysia. How was the experience like in Malaysia?

Amit: I was selected for a major tournament after quite some time and wanted to excel at Malaysia. The Azlan Shah Cup was a turning point in my career. It was my aim to do well there in order to be picked for the Commonwealth Games. My efforts paid off and I was able to execute my drag-flicks well.

At Ipoh, the youngsters did well as they were really excited to be playing in a big tournament. It was a huge occasion for them and they were prepared to give all they had. They followed the instructions of the coaches and worked really hard. We were not able to score many field goals initially and had to resort to PCs.

Sardar Singh was really good with the youngsters as he knew exactly how to motivate them and also correct their mistakes by advising them in the team meetings.

SK: How confident are you now with regard to your drag-flicking skills?

Amit: I do have a lot of confidence with regard to my drag-flicking abilities. Whenever I get a chance, I am eager to implement whatever Chris Ciriello and Jugraj Singh have taught me.

There is a lot of analysis which happens in order to determine where the opposition goalkeepers usually position themselves and where the first runner stands. Based on the results of the analysis, the coaches tell us whether to go right, left, use the first or second battery, or try a variation.

We always prefer to try and get shots on goal via direct hits first and if we have the confidence to do so, the requirement for using up variations is reduced.

"Moritz Fuerste influenced me a lot"

SK: What was the experience like of playing in the Hockey India League?

Amit: My performance in the HIL helped me to regain my place in the national side. Even when I was not in the team, I kept practicing and working very hard. Moritz Fuerste (of Germany) and I played together for 5 long years and he has helped and influenced me the most. When I made mistakes, he never discouraged or corrected me on the pitch.

Moritz always made a note of the errors we committed and once the match was over, he would then let us know where we went wrong. I have always admired the way he handled the team as captain of Kalinga Lancers.

SK: There are quite a few defenders now. How tough is it for you to maintain your place in the side?

Amit: There is a lot of competition as far as the defenders are concerned. As a defender, even a small mistake can affect the team in a very big way. My aim is very simple and that is to give my very best in every tournament that I play in. Thus far, I have never adopted a complacent attitude in any of the matches that I have played in.

I have always been committed to giving my best as I play for my team and my country. Playing casually has never been an option for me.

"I tell Sreejesh to cover the right and leave the left to me"

SK: As a runner, you charge down quite often right in the path of the oncoming ball. How do you manage to cope with the pain of the impact?

Amit: I never get scared. When you want to do well for your team and country, fear takes a backseat.

Before standing on the goal line, I tell myself that I will not allow the ball to cross at any cost. I tell Sreejesh to cover the right side of the goal and leave the left to me. I also let the second runner know that I will cover the high balls and that he should be prepared to block the flick should it come low.

I feel proud if I am able to block a shot with my body. I do not feel any immediate pain when I take the hit as the body is heated up at the time of the impact. The excessive body heat numbs the effects of the pain temporarily. After the match, the sensation of pain begins to increase and needs to be controlled with the application of ice.

It is important to control the after-effects of the impact as the body needs to be fit and ready the next day to start the process all over again.

<p>Amit has played in all the major tournaments this year
Amit has played in all the major tournaments this year

SK: What was the mood in the camp like when you played the Champions Trophy?

Amit: We were determined to put the debacle of the Commonwealth Games behind us. It is for this reason that we tried to forget what happened at Gold Coast as that is now history. Our aim now is to advance and ascend - and keep doing so. Looking back or coming down the ladder is not something we will ever do.

When we played at Breda, there was a lot of fire within us and we will play the same way in the future too. We do not really care much about who we are playing against. Whether the opponents are Belgium, Holland, or Australia it really does not matter anymore because we are ready to compete with any team in the world.

We are working very hard in practice, gym, and conditioning and I feel it is quite intense.

Teams like Argentina are almost completely dependent on PCs. Whenever we play against Argentina, we always aim to not concede any PCs so as to put a lot of pressure on them.

We are confident and have worked really hard, the results will show in the Asian Games and the World Cup.

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