A pall of disappointment descended on Shivendra Singh’s playing career when the national hockey selectors wielded the axe on him after India’s calamitous 2012 London Olympics campaign (the men in blue returned with a wooden spoon).
The inaugural Hockey India League gave him an opportunity to make a case for a national recall, but he suffered an ankle injury during the league, which subsequently forced him out of the first leg of the national camp comprising 34 probables in Bengaluru, resulting in him missing the exposure tour of the Netherlands.
Shivendra overcame all the fitness issues and impressed head coach Michael Nobbs and all the other members of the team management during the second and final leg of the national camp in Bengaluru, and forced his way into the national team for the upcoming FIH Hockey World League semifinals (round3), which begins in Rotterdam from June 13.
No wonder, Shivendra is chuffed at his national call-up. “I’m happy to stage a comeback to the national team. I have really worked on my game, especially on my trapping and speed and it has paid off now with my national recall,” the Indian centre-forward says in an exclusive interview to Sportskeeda.
The 29-year-old forward, who is employed with Air India, braved the odds stacked against him when he sustained an ankle injury during the Hockey India League while playing for Jaypee Punjab Warriors. “I hardly played in the HIL. I fractured my right ankle and it was frustrating to sit out as it was a good opportunity to prove myself and make a comeback to the national side,” he sounds a note of regret of getting injured without taking any major part in the league.
The ace forward who has appeared in 180 internationals and scored 80 goals, says his mental toughness helped him to tide over the tough phase. “I had put on weight as I was not playing or adequately able to do my workouts due to my ankle injury. Injuries are part and parcel of a sportsperson’s life and I just have to take it in my stride. I think my mental strength helped me to come out of this phase.”
The Gwalior lad admits the national recall came as a bit of a surprise for him. “Since I did not play much in the Hockey India League, I did not have much to show in terms of performance, so I was really not optimistic about staging a comeback. I guess the head coach and the team management were impressed with what they saw during the second leg of the national camp and picked me in the side,” he reasons.
He lavishes praise on head coach Michael Nobbs for assisting him with his inputs. “Michael Nobbs has really helped me with my inputs. I think I have improved my speed and trapping than before and hopefully it will help the Indian team.”
Hockey runs in the Shivendra household. His wife Nishi is a former international woman player (she played during the 1999-2004 period and is also a forward like Shivendra) – even she is happy to see him mark a comeback to the Indian team. “Nishi is really happy to see me back in the national fold. She takes a lot of interest in my game. We both worked together in Railways before I switched to Air India,” says the man, who wears the headband as per his wife’s wishes.
Shivendra is the most capped player in the Indian team ahead of the likes of captain Sardar Singh, Vokkaliga Raghunath and SV Sunil. He has enormous responsibility of spearheading the Indian forward-line. “I know there is lot of responsibility on me and Sunil to assume the forward-line responsibilities. We have to guide and help our young forwards like Mandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Chinglensana Singh so that they can give off their best. I would spare no effort in helping India make the HWL semifinals,” he says bullishly.
The Indian centre-forward is counting on the best wishes of his team-mates ever since the news trickled in that he made it to the national team. “I’ve got a lot calls and messages from my team-mates and former players. It feels good to know that they are people who stand by you at all times. I hope to live up to the expectations of our hockey fans and return home with a decent performance in Rotterdam; that will make my comeback a successful one,” he concludes.