Forward Akashdeep Singh has the distinction of having represented the country in over 150 international matches. He made his debut in the 2012 Champions Trophy in Australia and has been part of the national team ever since. In 2015, he was nominated for the FIH Rising Player of the Year award, where he lost out to Christopher Ruhr.
The 23-year-old was also a part of the squad that won silver in the last edition of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Having represented India in the 2016 Rio Olympics, he was also a part of the team that won the bronze medal in the Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar last year.
An electrifying striker with mesmerizing stick work and deft passing skills, Akashdeep has often displayed a fondness for the reverse flick and has used to it to great effect along with clever dummies and dodges to outfox the opposition defence.
Along with SV Sunil, Gurjant Singh, Lalit Upadhyay, and Mandeep Singh, he is part of one of the most potent attackers in world hockey at the moment.
Despite being the most expensive player in the 2015 Hockey India League, when Uttar Pradesh Wizards offered him a whopping $84,000, Akashdeep remains humble, soft-spoken, and is a trifle bashful as we found out in our candid conversation during the ongoing Bangalore hockey camp prior to the Commonwealth Games.
SK: The Hockey World League match (last December) against Belgium was your 150th international. What was the moment like for you and what are your memories of that match?
Akashdeep Singh: It was a great moment for me and for the team. It was a vital quarter-final encounter. Belgium was one of the best teams in the competition. The entire team played very well. We beat Belgium and then went on to win the bronze medal in the World League subsequently.
SK: You were not a part of the team that played in the Four-Nations in New Zealand and the Azlan Shah Cup. From a physical perspective, do you feel you are match-fit for the Commonwealth Games after the long break?
AS: Yes, this will be first tournament of the year for me. We have trained well and prepared ourselves. The Commonwealth Games is a big tournament. We will play the opener against Pakistan, and I am totally fit and raring to go. We will do well for sure.
SK: Apart from you, the Indian forward line comprises SV Sunil and Gurjant Singh. How effective do you think the Indian attack is, as compared to the rest of the teams?
AS: All of our coaches tell us the same thing. We have a great sense of how to advance in a counter-attack. That is the inherent strength of the Indian forward line. We will continue the same in future as well.
SK: India lost to Australia in the Commonwealth Games final in 2014. We seem to stumble against Australia although we have beaten all the other top teams. Do you feel the team is capable of outplaying Australia?
AS: It is true we lost to Australia in the final of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, but we have done well against them since. We beat Australia in the Azlan Shah Cup (in 2015 by a 4-2 margin) and in the Test series as well. We feel all the teams are equal and the team that does better on the field on a particular day will win.
SK: The Commonwealth Games will be the start of a long season with many tournaments lined up including the Champions Trophy, Asian Games, Asian Champions Trophy, and the World Cup. Will it be a challenge to maintain your fitness until the end of the year?
AS: We have a busy season this year and have to take care of our bodies to be able to play all the tournaments effectively. We have five to six big tournaments coming up this year and it is never easy to maintain one's fitness over such a long span of time. We have to focus on our diet and recovery as per the inputs provided by our trainers.
SK: What do you feel has been Sjoerd Marijne's most significant contribution to the team as a coach?
AS: Personally, I feel he gives a lot of freedom to us as players. He gives a player freedom to decide which position would suit him the best. He allows a player to feel comfortable to utilize his skills in the best possible manner. I feel that this quality of his to give freedom of choice to players is something remarkable.
SK: As far as penalty corners are concerned, we have Harmanpreet Singh and Rupinder Pal Singh, who are the experts. Can we look forward to you scoring from penalty corners as well?
AS: Drag-flicks? No! (Laughs) Harmanpreet and Rupinder are doing a great job. My job, as well as the rest of the team's, is to try and earn as many PCs as we can so they can then convert the drag-flicks into goals. Both have done very well for us and if only we earn PCs for them they will definitely score.
SK: Rupinder Pal Singh has returned to the side to shore up India's defence. Apart from him, we have a lot of youngsters from Odisha who played as defenders recently. How do you think they have shaped up?
AS: The coaches and the selection committee have a policy of trying out new players. A lot of young players were given a chance for the New Zealand tour and the Azlan Shah Cup. They performed extremely well. Hopefully, they will do great in future too.