Gurjant Singh: On the lookout for his next defining moment on the hockey turf
Can Gurjant Singh make his mark on the senior stage as well?
A whip of the stick. A ball met perfectly on the reverse. A hapless goalkeeper. A rustling of the net. A delirious crowd. An ecstatic man in the middle. A billion hearts thumping with joy.
You can't search for defining moments in your life. They just don't come knocking at your door. The moments that define ones as I have written have already happened, and if I am lucky enough then you at the other end reading this might just be going through one.
For sports stars, this stands true as well. You only realise that those were the moments only after you have lived in them, exulted in them or brooded over them. And it's only when one can distance oneself both periodically and emotionally that one can gauge the importance of those moments in his/her life.
For Gurjant Singh, in his fledgeling days as a hockey star, the first of what we hope to be many was the final of the Junior Hockey World Cup. His composed strike that was emphatically dispatched showed not only his skills but his ability to deliver at the big stage.
Nearly a year on from his timely strike that helped India win the World Cup after a gap of 17 years, the forward has finally made it to the senior side. Granted a place in the senior time by Roelant Oltmans, Gurjant Singh finally had the chance to strut off his stuff for the senior side in the recently concluded European tour.
However for him, this wasn't the first defining moment in his life. That had come years earlier, when against his parents' will. He decided to take up hockey after having fallen in love with the sports watching his cousins play.
"My parents weren't convinced to begin with and I was told to concentrate on my studies more than anything," quips the young international who recently scored his first senior goal in a game against the Netherlands on the European tour.
The fears for his parents were well-placed. With no one in his village having played the game or being exposed to it, hockey was an unknown quantity.
"I came to know about the game only when I used to visit my maternal grandparents near Batala. My cousins were playing the sport and I saw them having good jobs because of that and that's what initially drew me towards the sport, to be honest with you," states the new member of the Indian forward line.
And being honest, not only to me whilst speaking but also to himself whilst playing the game helped him improve every time he met with a challenge.
A forward from the get-go, Gurjant has always had a sense of where the back of the net is and that has propelled him to become the best.
"The life that we led away from the family since childhood is not an easy one. But that's something we have chosen to. And we have to stick with it. In some way, I guess that makes us single-minded about being successful,'" states the youngster. "I decided to move away from my family when I was in Class 4 or 5. It was difficult, to begin with. You get reminded of home but you also know that there is no way back."
And there was certainly no turning back on his dreams for Gurjant Singh. The forward would soon be a star for Chandigarh at various junior levels. Winning the U-17 School Nationals in Chandigarh and the U-17 Nehru Cup was followed by a triumph in the U-19 School Nationals.
A call up to the Junior team was thus, not a surprise. And nearly a year after that fateful day in Lucknow, Gurjant is flying high after scoring his first international goal for the men's side - again courtesy of a reverse stick.
Indian hockey on the lookout of its own moment of reckoning
The Indian hockey team itself has found the going hard in recent times. And even the impressive European tour where they beat Austria and the Netherlands with a relatively young and experienced squad will not be good enough to plaster over the cracks that did appear in their performances in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and the Semi Finals of the Hockey World League.
The more often than not embodies the spirit of a teenager who doesn't truly know where it's strength lies. While the team has shown promise time and again since the Rio Olympics with a change in style of play, there hasn't been one win that could really serve as a trademark one.
The Indian forwards themselves have blown hot and cold over the past year. Whilst they were AWOL at the Rio Olympics and Asian Champions Trophy, names like Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh and Ramandeep have again seemed to have found their touch in the last couple of major tournament - only to be left lacking in the penalty corner and defensive department.
And with major events such as the Asian Cup and the Final of the Hockey World League knocking on the doors ahead of the Commonwealth Games next year, Gurjant Singh knows it's an opportune moment for him to make a mark.
"This is a chance that I have waited for since long. I had been in camps before but putting on that jersey going into the field - it's a different feeling altogether.
"The players I am playing with these days are the ones I have idolised all my life and I want to make everyone proud," states the man who considers Rupinder Pal Singh as his biggest idol.
In his words, this is the "men's game and not one for the boys" at the senior level. And with so many names currently ahead of him in the team, he knows he needs to perform consistently in every game to break into the core group.
It was, in fact, a tour to the Netherlands that started it all off for Gurjant at the junior's stage and the way it finished would have been a perfect end to any fairy tale - a defining moment that has made everyone stand up and take notice of his talents.
A few years later, it was again in Netherlands that Gurjant has started his new journey - and he i nolooking for his next defining moment.