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Interview: I took up job in UP for my parents, says India’s Sultan Azlan Shah Cup captain Danish Mujtaba

The responsibility of being captain can bring out the best of some players, while it can also sometimes affect the performance of a player. Danish Mujtaba would be hoping for the former when he leads the Indian senior men’s hockey team at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament, which begins at Ipoh, Malaysia from March 9-17.

2012 Champions Trophy - Day 2

The 24-year-old striker is raring to go after a decent run in the Hero Hockey World League Round 2 tournament as well as in the inaugural Hockey India League. “It’s a great feeling to be handed the captaincy responsibilities. I would look to live up to the trust the coach and the selectors have reposed in me,” Danish says in an exclusive interview to Sportskeeda.

The soft-spoken Allahabad lad is focused on the bigger picture of helping the national team to put up an impressive performance at the upcoming Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament. “We would try to give our hundred percent.”

“We have a young team with not many seniors; even I’m also a junior player – we hope to fare well. It’s a pretty evenly balanced field – Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, New Zealand and Malaysia are all strong teams. You can’t afford to let your guard down against any of these teams,” the youngster points out.

Like of many of the Indian youngsters, the Hockey India League was a big learning experience for Danish. “I learnt a lot playing alongside some of the world’s top players like Oscar Deecke, Lloyd-Norris Jones, Nicolas Jacobi, Matt Ghodes and Simon Child. Our forward line had a bevy of quality foreigners, which really helped to improve my game since I play as a striker,” he explains.

Danish started honing his hockey skills at Sports Hostel Lucknow in 2001. In 2004, he joined the New Delhi-based SAI-Air India Hockey Academy, where he upgraded his skills. His biggest career break came when he donned the national jersey at the 2009 Junior Men’s World Cup which was jointly hosted by Malaysia and Singapore. India finished 9th in the tournament, but Danish announced his arrival with a dazzling hat-trick in India’s opening 10-0 routing of Singapore. “I got a chance to play in the Junior World Cup. My performance in the tournament helped me to soon earn a call-up to the senior men’s team,” he recalls.

He made his senior international debut a few months later during the seven-match hockey Test series against Canada, held in their backyard. India won the series 6-0 with one match being drawn. “I have fond memories of my senior international debut. I played in five of the seven games. I did not score any goals, but my debut series is something I will never forget,” he quips.

Danish, who has featured in more than a 100 internationals and scored 32 goals, had a natural inclination towards hockey and no prizes for guessing why. “My grandfather Idris Ahmed as well as my mama Atif Idris played for the country. Even my elder brother Hamza played a few internationals for India. My father also played at the state level. So it was never difficult to get motivated to play hockey,” he reminisces.

Most Indian hockey players takes up jobs in Railways, Air India or in oil companies. So why did Danish choose to take up a job for Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited? “Well, I work as a Sports Officer for UPPCL since 2011. I got this job offer after the 2010 Asian Games. Actually, my two elder brothers work and stay in Delhi, so I wanted to stay close to my family and decided to take up this job for my parents,” he says.

He rates his goal against Pakistan in the 2011 Asian Champions Trophy tournament in Doha as his most memorable goal. “I scored a field goal to equalize after we were down 0-2 at one stage. This is my most memorable goal till date.”

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