Indian men’s hockey team midfielder Nilakanta Sharma has emerged as one of the vital cogs in the Indian team’s set-up. Rising up the ranks, Sharma has, over the years, returned significant performances that have helped him cement his place in the Indian men’s hockey senior team.
A team player, Nilakanta Sharma, was a live-wire at the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics, where India won a bronze medal. His exploits in midfield included close to everything from feeding the forwards to thwarting attempts of his opponents to clear man-marking. Nilakanta Sharma ticked all the boxes during the tournament.
Introspection is key in any sport and Sharma swears by it. Although the midfielder was on the money with respect to his team’s plans, the 26-year-old made sure to get back to the drawing board to understand and work on subtle improvements in his game.
As a very important year for Indian hockey beckons in 2022, Nilakanta Sharma believes the key to success is always being in the learning phase and sticking to plans as a team player. He said:
"I have had some time to introspect my own performance over the past few years with the senior team. I think I have been very fortunate to have played alongside some of the best players in India and have been able to learn a lot from them. I always like to keep things simple and execute what is expected of me from the team. Each player is assigned a certain role by the coach and I just try to stick to it."
Hockey in Manipur has a lot of scope, says Nilakanta Sharma
Nilakanta Sharma is one of the best players to have emerged from the North Eastern state of Manipur and was instrumental in India's successful campaign at the FIH Junior Men's World Cup in 2016. His good form at the World Cup earned him a national call-up and Nilakanta Sharma joined the senior Indian men’s hockey team in the subsequent year and since then there has been no looking back.
Although Manipur isn’t best known for hockey, Nilakanta Sharma believes he can make a difference and help budding players from Manipur dream of a career. He said:
"Definitely there's a lot of potential for Manipur Hockey to grow further. A lot of good things are happening in the state and the emphasis is on creating good infrastructure. I hope my performance in Tokyo has inspired more youngsters from my state to take up hockey.”
With the air settling down after a historic Olympic campaign, Nilakanta Sharma is now eagerly looking to the national coaching camp, scheduled to be held next month. The Indian men’s hockey team will start their preparations for the Asian Games next year, where the target will be to win the gold medal and subsequently seal direct qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“We will now sit down as a team and analyze our performance in the Olympics. I personally like these team meetings because everyone contributes and gets to put across their views. We will discuss what worked for us as a team and what didn't. Also, there is so much to learn from the leadership group which includes the senior players and I am looking forward to returning to national camp.”