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Can Ashok Kumar's protege bring back memories of the Dhyan Chand era?  

Vivek's phenomenal talent has charmed Indian hockey lovers
Modified 28 Aug 2019

After making his senior debut in the Four-Nations tournament in New Zealand early last year, young Vivek Sagar was picked for the Commonwealth Games much to the surprise of Indian hockey enthusiasts.

The diminutive 18-year-old seemed rather at sea against the physically superior Black Sticks players and India's loss to New Zealand in the semifinals led to a barrage of criticism that was levelled against the team management for blooding in colts like Vivek far too soon at the expense of his senior teammates.

Could an athlete who failed to reach the 5 foot 4 inches mark on a stadiometer hope to man the midfield against the tall and stocky chargers from Europe and Australia?

Vivek comes into his own at Breda

Little did the critics know that the seemingly-bashful lad from Madhya Pradesh was no ordinary talent - and that a previous return from injury had fortified the teenager with steely layers of determination that would confound the sceptics.

Returning to the pitch following a serious collar-bone injury sustained in 2016 was no mean feat and Vivek Sagar Prasad does not consider his height to be an impediment to his unmistakable prowess.

"What I have learned over the years is to be confident of my abilities and my technique on the pitch. Confidence in one's abilities is the most important trait of all. It does not matter which player is in front of you as long as you believe in yourself."

A change of coach did little to damage either the youngster's confidence or his place in the team and the phenomenal talent from Itarsi was chosen to take the flight to Breda where the Indians would take on the best in the world at the Champions Trophy.

In the finals against defending champions Australia, Vivek got busy near the backlines early on and stopped the Aussies in their tracks as they held sway in the attacking circle even before the Indian defence had time to settle in.

The Indians returned the fire but failed to find the target and young Vivek retreated from midfield to help out his defenders once more after nine minutes of pulsating end-to-end hockey.


It was a contest to relish as two attacking sides tore at each other in an attempt to strike first blood in the finals of the last edition of the elite event at Breda.

The Aussies broke the deadlock midway through the second quarter but could scarcely relax as the Indian strikers wreaked havoc - and Sreejesh and co. had the equalizer three minutes before the end of the third quarter.

The goalscorer was none other than Vivek Sagar Prasad who was having the match of his life. The Indians lost the tie-breaker at Breda but Vivek had silenced his critics with a gritty show.

In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, the midfielder from Madhya Pradesh shares with us the nuances of the modern game at a time when the nation remembers its favourite hockey stalwart - Dhyan Chand.

"Mental strength is the most important of all"

"Both skill and power are important in the game today - the utility of both come to the fore in different match situations. I feel mental strength is the most important of all in the present context."

Best Young Player Award at the FIH Series Finals
Best Young Player Award at the FIH Series Finals

The commemoration of National Sports Day which marks the birth anniversary of one of India's all-time greats brings to mind the golden age of Indian hockey. But the glory days continued well until 1975 when Dhyan Chand's son Ashok Kumar scored against Pakistan in the World Cup final to give the Indians their only gold in the history of the competition.

It was none other than Ashok Kumar who spotted Vivek's unmistakable talent when he was invited as a chief guest to a tournament where the prodigy was in action.

"Ashok Kumar was the chief guest when I was playing a tournament in Maharashtra and that was when he approached me and wanted to know if I would be interested in joining the academy he was associated with."

"He told me at the time that he had never made such an offer to any other player in the past. I actually stayed with him for a couple of months."

"My folks at home did not follow hockey a lot - but were no doubt familiar with Dhyan Chand's legacy and were confident that I would definitely have a lot to gain from being coached by the son of the legend."

Former coach of the Indian juniors, Jude Felix has mentored Vivek more recently and told Sportskeeda that the player who captained the juniors to a podium finish at the Youth Olympics is a perfect amalgamation of skill and intelligence.

"Vivek is a very good talent; an intelligent player who understands the game well and shows good maturity to hold his place in the team."


Hockey experts of yesteryears have often shed light on Dhyan Chand's exploits and described in great detail how the wizard of the game dribbled past every defender in his path - not stopping until the ball was safely ensconced within the precincts of the net.

Vivek is focussed on overcoming his deficiencies at the next camp
Vivek is focussed on overcoming his deficiencies at the next camp

The advent of astroturf has made it next-to-impossible to emulate such heroics as coaches the world over now stress on the importance of one-touch hockey and shun excessive individual play.

Vivek agrees that it is not a good idea to hold on to the ball for too long in the current scenario.

"It was possible to dribble and get past a host of players on the kind of grounds that the game was played on in the past - but in the modern turf that we play on now, it's not a good idea to hold on to the ball for too long as the game has become very fast."

"Focussed on camp ahead of Belgium tour"

The budding star of Indian hockey received the Best Young Player Award at the FIH Series Finals at Bhubaneswar but is now focussed on overcoming his deficiencies at the next camp which will be held from September 2 until September 22 ahead of a tour to Belgium where the Indians will be up against the World and European champions.

"The next camp begins on September 2 and our aim is to correct our deficiencies and do well in all the upcoming tours and tournaments."


Vivek, who idolizes fellow-midfielder Manpreet Singh to this day, signs off with words of wisdom from coach Ashok Kumar which now lie imbibed in his psyche.

"A coach can only do so much - from then on it's up to the player to have the passion to go the extra mile."

The nation which once dominated world hockey now looks to its younger lot to lead the way forward on an irreversible path of resurrection.

Who knows what a ticket to Tokyo can yield?

Published 28 Aug 2019, 19:53 IST
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