Ramandeep Singh in the reckoning for core group spot following return from injury
"When we are out there on the pitch donning India colours, it is our duty to perform and give more than our hundred percent. The inspiration and confidence one gets after wearing the India jersey is phenomenal. Whenever I am given a chance, I do the very best I can and I will always continue to do the same."
In an interaction with Sportskeeda, before heading to Breda to play the Champions Trophy, Ramandeep Singh was upbeat as ever as he delved into great detail as to how the established Indian strikers combine brilliantly as a result of the understanding that develops from years of playing alongside one another.
Five minutes after giving India a vital lead in the Champions Trophy opener against Pakistan, Ramandeep Singh felt a hint of pain down his right knee as the Indians trooped off the pitch for the long breather.
Despite the obvious discomfort, the prolific striker returned to action in the second half and was in the thick of things until the very last minute when he helped Lalit Upadhyay score at the death, much to the delight of his teammates, as Sreejesh and co. handed Pakistan a 4-0 mauling.
In retrospect, Ramandeep's decision to continue playing in the second half proved costly - but spending time on the bench against arch-rivals Pakistan seemed unthinkable at the time for a player who was not part of the Commonwealth Games squad.
Sadly, for Ramandeep, and the Indian team, it was a heroic but short-lived comeback which lasted for the duration of just one eventful match. Much to the disappointment of teammates and fans alike, the striker was conspicuous by his absence on the pitch in the encounter against Argentina the very next day.
MRIs displayed a right-knee chondral fracture which resulted in a flight back home and subsequent surgery during which his beloved teammates stood by, lending assistance and encouragement - for Ramandeep, however, it was the beginning of an onerous period both physically and emotionally.
Bumpy ride for the goal poacher from Punjab
After returning home with a Champions Trophy silver, Indian striker Lalit Upadhyay mentioned in an interview to Sportskeeda that the boys wanted to win a medal at Breda as a consolation gift for Ramandeep.
"We wanted to take a medal back for Raman's sake as he would feel better if he knew we had achieved something. His contribution to the team has been immense."
Consistent performances, notwithstanding, the Olympian who was part of the Indian side which made it to the quarterfinals at Rio, has been in and out of the team quite a bit.
Ramandeep was rested for the Champions Trophy in 2016, sidelined due to injury at times, and missed the Azlan Shah Cup in 2017.
The forward was not picked for the Hockey World League Finals in Bhubaneswar, and in spite of a good showing at the Azlan Shah Cup last year where he mentored a junior team which performed creditably, he failed to find a place in the team that traveled to Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games.
The long road back from injury
It was on June 23, 2018, that Ramandeep last played an international match, and when Sportskeeda caught up with the convalescing striker before the Asian Games last year, he was understandably crestfallen.
"The boys helped me a lot in the hospital and continue to do so here (at SAI) as well. Am hoping that I can recover soon," he conceded.
The distraught 25-year-old was well aware that he had no chance of making it to Jakarta but hung on to a glimmer of hope that he would be fit in time for the World Cup.
Alas, that was not to be, but post-rehab and recovery, Ramandeep Singh is back to doing what he does best - he has been finding the back of the net at the Senior Nationals.
Hockey Punjab is no doubt benefiting from Ramandeep's return, and his India teammates who missed the presence of the livewire at Jakarta and Bhubaneswar will no doubt be looking forward to coalescing with the man up front as they gear up for a new season.
The selection for the core group ahead of the Azlan Shah Cup will be done on February 13 and as Ramandeep continues to weave his magic for Punjab, a spot in the core group beckons for the man whose presence in the striking circle has upset the calculations of the best defensive units of the world.
After a bitterly disappointing year gone by, Ramandeep Singh will certainly be hoping to make it back to the national side, and regain his magic touch in order to bolster the team's attacking options as the Indians endeavor to make it to Tokyo 2020.