Interview with Nikkin Thimmaiah: "Cherish my hat-trick against Australia"
Scoring a hat-trick against world champions Australia is a much bigger achievement than many would actually imagine. Talented Indian forward Nikkin Thimmaiah is riding high on confidence ever since that feat and is looking to scale new heights wearing the national jersey.
The 23-year-old Karnataka youngster’s hat-trick came in a crucial 4-2 win over Australia in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, which paved the way for India featuring in the bronze medal play-off, where they pipped Korea to attain a podium finish. Nikkin, who is employed with Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), spoke to us in an exclusive interview.
Q. Tell us a bit about your fantastic hat-trick against Australia in the 2015 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh. Must have been a special feeling considering the fact it is not always than an Indian scores a hat-trick against a formidable side like Australia?
I really felt good about it. Scoring a hat-trick against Australia was highly satisfying as they are a quality side and won’t give you anything on a platter – more importantly, my effort helped my team beat Australia and enabled us to play in the bronze medal play-off where we beat Korea to win the bronze. The Australia match was crucial for us after we drew against Korea and lost to New Zealand and Malaysia. I will cherish this effort but at the same time, I would like to thank my teammates as without their support my hat-trick would not have been possible. After all hockey is a team game and everyone works towards contributing for the team’s win.
Q You made your senior international debut at the 2013 Asia Cup in Ipoh – a tourney where India finished runners-up to seal their berth for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Do you think your strong performance at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup is a sign that you are ready to shoulder the forwardline workload?
Obviously, the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup performance has given me a lot of confidence. Not just the Australia game, I scored against Korea in the first match and again I scored in our bronze medal play-off tie against Korea. I’m looking to raise my performance bar and keep improving all the time and hopefully my team will benefit from that in the long run.
Q You were part of the national team that for the first-time ever defeated the world champions Australia in their own backyard in a four test series last November, which happened to be Terry Walsh’s last stint as India coach. Share us your experiences of that great Test series win?
I thought India played solid hockey as beating Australia three times on the trot is far from being easy. The whole team really stuck it out after losing the first 0-4 and I have fond memories of that series.
Q How frustrating was it for you to get picked in the 2014 World Cup side and not play because of a hamstring injury?
It was actually, but you can’t control injuries, when it has to happen, it will happen. I gradually took the injury in my stride and worked on my rehab and made a comeback in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. But yes, missing the World Cup was a disappointment.
Q There is never any end to learning for a sportsperson. As a hockey player, what are the improvement areas you want to focus on?
I consistently look to improve and would like to work on my air-dodging skills. I always feel that I need to work on creating more penalty corners for our fullbacks who are among the best in the world.
Q You started playing hockey in class six in St. Joseph’s Indian High School, and subsequently switched to athletics – you even won a silver medal in 400 metres in the Open Nationals in Bengaluru and then got back to hockey. Tell us a bit about it.
Well, in class ten I had to take a call of picking one sport and chose hockey over athletics. I started getting trained in hockey under coach Manohar Katke in St. Joseph’s Indian High School and gradually picked the skills. My father, who is a national level hockey player having turned out for ASC, encouraged me to take up hockey and there has been no looking back after my temporary craze for athletics.
Q You are a product of Sports Authority of India (SAI) Bengaluru. Tell us about your learning days in SAI.
I owe a lot of my career progress to SAI. I joined SAI Bengaluru centre in 2007 and honed my skills under the watchful eyes of Ashwath sir and Prabhakar sir – both of them had a great role to play in shaping my career.
Q Japan gave India a serious fight in the recently-concluded four Test series. Your thoughts.
The series showed that no team can be taken lightly. Japan pushed us hard in the series, especially in the first three tests, which only accentuates the fact that you cannot underestimate any team whatever their world ranking may be.
Q How do you assess India’s chances in the upcoming Hockey World League Semifinals in Belgium next month?
We will work hard in the preparatory camp and hopefully give our best shot.