There was a time when the Indian senior men’s hockey team was struggling to find a decent crop of drag-flickers even as top names like Netherlands, Germany and Australia continued to churn such DF experts with increasing regularity.
Times have indeed changed over the years for Indian hockey. The men in blue now have a problem of plenty – a positive augury for the future. If there was a Sandeep Singh ploughing a lone furrow at one point of time, now the national team boasts of quite a few skilful drag-flickers.
Rupinder Pal Singh is one of the new breed of drag-flickers who infuse a lot of hope for Indian hockey. The six-foot four-inch hockey player is riding high on confidence after putting up a stellar show at the 2013 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey Tournament, where he rattled the opposition cage as many as six times.
“We played good hockey in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey Tournament. The fifth position doesn’t quite reflect the way we performed in Ipoh,” the burly fullback said in an exclusive interview to Sportskeeda.
The Faridkot lad, who honed his hockey skills in his formative years at the Chandigarh Hockey Academy, is pleased to have shouldered the responsibility of manning the Indian defence in the Ipoh tourney, given the absence of seasoned pros like Vokkaliga Raghunath and Sandeep Singh. “I had a big responsibility of nullifying the opposition attacks as Raghunath and Sandeep were not there. I enjoyed this responsibility. Responsibility brings the best out of me,” he says.
The 23-year-old defender has come in for praise from various quarters for the manner in which he shaped up in Ipoh. “I’m always looking to improve as a defender and also as a drag-flicker. There is always a lot to learn from every tournament and I’m richer with the Ipoh experience.”
Rupinder, who made his senior international debut in the 2010 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey Tournament, is more than happy to raise the performance bar all the time. “I don’t easily get satisfied. Complacency is the last thing in my mind. I want to pick new tricks of the trade and follow what coach Michael Nobbs says and implement them on the pitch,” the Indian Overseas Bank employee says matter-of-factly.
The big man from Punjab was a revelation in the 2011 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey Tournament where he was the top-scorer, which included a sizzling hat-trick against Great Britain. “I have fond memories of the 2011 edition a year after my senior debut in the same tournament. My hat-trick against Great Britain has special memories for me,” recalls the youngster, who was a standby in the 2010 Commonwealth and 2010 Asian Games squads.
For any drag-flicker, a high conversion rate is imperative for the team’s success and Rupinder is straining his last nerve to get that up. “I know that I have to work on my penalty corner conversion rate. There is always room for improvement. Like we drag-flickers are looking to up our conversion rate, goalkeepers also train hard to foil our flicks. I have to study the body movements of goalkeepers and also keep a close eye on the angles as part of the learning curve,” he points out.
How comfortable is he with the cut-throat competition in the Indian drag-flick department given someone like Gurjinder Singh is snapping at his heels? “Well, competition is good for the team. Healthy competition keeps every player highly motivated as there is no scope to take things easy. If a player knows that there is nobody to replace him, he is prone to go easy which is not the right thing to happen for any player,” he explains.
Does he miss Sandeep Singh in the side? “I have asked for drag-flick tips from Sandeep. I have so much respect for him. I hope he makes a comeback to the national side soon,” he makes his point abundantly clear.
Rupinder, who is nicknamed ‘Bobby’, is upbeat about India faring well in the FIH Hero Hockey World League semifinals slated to be held in June this year. “We have a good team. If we stay injury-free and play to our potential, we stand a good chance of qualifying for round 2,” he remarks.
The well built defender, who has played 66 internationals, missed out on home cooked food when he is abroad playing for the country. “I do miss home cooked food when I am on national duty outside the country. Besides home cooked food I love to gorge on pasta which is one of my favourite food items,” he signs off (grins).