Gurbaj Singh aims for perfect comeback to Indian team with strong showing in Hockey India League 2017
Gurbaj Singh was purchased by Ranchi Rays as the costliest Indian buy for Hockey India League (HIL) 2017. Moreover, he beat German forward Christopher Ruhr, who was the costliest international buy this season, with an amount of $75,000 in the auction. Interestingly, Ruhr is also his teammate at the Rays.
Fresh and raring to go, the 28-year-old will be looking to capitalise on every opportunity he is presented with at HIL 2017.
This looked nigh on impossible for a person, who was branded as undisciplined and was not considered for national team selection for more than a year.
The stalwart has had a seesaw career so far. Let’s look at how Gurbaj scripted this comeback.
The Hockey India exile
India had qualified for the finals in Raipur and it seemed that Singh was on his way to play his second consecutive Olympic Games. However, coach Jude Felix blamed the right-half for indiscipline in the World League semi-finals in a report submitted to Hockey India in August 2015.
His case was blown out of proportion from a mere incident that seemed to be questioning team tactics. Consequently, Hockey India banned him for creating disharmony within the national team without even hearing his version of the story. His subsequent court battle saw him overturn the 9-month ban and return to play the game he loves the most!
The 2016 SAF Games
Singh returned to the Indian men's hockey team for the 12th South Asian (SAF) Games in February 2016. It saw the men's team competing against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and arch-rivals Pakistan. Coached by BJ Kariappa and led by Mandeep Antil, India was banking on Gurbaj’s experience in this experimental team.
India went on to the finals only to lose against Pakistan. However, despite some encouraging performances, the ace midfielder was once again overlooked for national team selection. This meant that his chances of representing the country in the Olympics were gone.
Missing out on the Rio Olympics 2016
Despite being the country’s best right-half, he accepted the fact that he was not in the Rio Olympics squad. Nevertheless, he was sporting enough to congratulate his team members. It was not an injury but sheer politics that kept him out of the side!
“It doesn’t matter whether I’m in the team or not – they are all my team members and I want them to make the country proud by winning a medal in Rio,“ Gurbaj Singh on India's campaign at the Rio Olympics, 2016.
The midfield maestro accepted this harsh reality of life and pulled up his socks with an ever hungry desire to be considered for the next tournament.
Also Read: Indian Hockey ascended new heights in 2016
Local and international club tournaments
Earlier in 2016, Singh showed his experience and skill by captaining the Punjab side in the Hockey India-organised 6th Senior National Men’s Hockey Championship (A Division) in Safari. He led his side brilliantly as they racked up their fourth straight win to move into the semi-finals with a 7-0 one-sided victory over Jharkhand in the final league match of Pool C.
He practised hard at training sessions and built his stamina for tournaments that came calling. In late 2016, the ace midfielder was roped in by Sapura HC as part of their campaign in the Hockey League’s Premier Division in Malaysia. He used this opportunity to keep himself fit and ready for national team selection.
It would have been very satisfying for him scoring in each leg of the semi-final tie against Maybank. However, his team lost the final of the TNB Cup against the Terengganu Hockey Team 0-3.
With performances like these, the national selectors became receptive and summoned him into the core probables list.
Going strong at 28+
The 28-year-old, with his fitness and mental acumen, has shown that age is just a number! The right-half plays a robust brand of hockey with some exquisite skills at his disposal. His right flank runs are a treat to watch, especially when he rotates play to the left to create more opportunities for the forwards. He defends equally well, thwarting opponent attacks and building counter attacks!
Narendra Batra resigning from Hockey India (HI) to handle global hockey affairs as the President of FIH have also made the star midfielder’s transition and comeback much easier. The pictures in the tweet give a nice flashback to the good times when he was part of the team.
Coach Harendra Singh believes in him!
Indian junior national team coach, who is currently at the helm of Ranchi Rays, Harendra Singh bills him as the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle at Ranchi Rays. It was precisely the reason why the team management went all-out on a player who was a national discard a while ago.
“In fact, before the bidding began, we only wanted him. In our defensive structure, he fits in beautifully. We had decided to go all out to get him and we have the best right-half in the country.” - Harendra Singh, the Ranchi Rays coach on Gurbaj.
Gurbaj thanks his fans and supporters
This comeback was only possible because of his self-belief and indomitable attitude and Gurbaj was quick to thank the people who believed in him throughout this enduring phase.
"Of course, my family and my girlfriend always supported me in those uncertain times. I play for my fans that have supported me in the most difficult of times and my friends who have always advised me to keep playing and never to give up.”
Singh will definitely be an impact player for Rays and hopefully, for India as well. He will be looking to stage the perfect comeback with some splendid performances at this year's HIL. His tough demeanour and mental resilience stand out from many others players in the league and it is what makes him a potent force to still reckon with!