Two incredibly talented individuals who have overcome many an obstacle en route to donning the colours of the Indian national team have been on fire in the ongoing Pro League 2020.
While Vivek Sagar controls the traffic in midfield, not hesitating to scamper ahead when needed, and firing in the shootouts too, Lalit Upadhyay is a bundle of tenacious energy as he dribbles, shimmies, and dummies his way past opposition defenders with moves that bring the thrilled galleries to their feet.
In an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda, the two key players tell us what inspires them to perform at their peak time and again and how the Pro League campaign is priceless ahead of the Olympics.
Lalit Upadhyay was India's livewire in the Pro League opener against the Dutch, scoring one goal in each of the two matches and was the architect of several forays while Vivek scored a crucial goal for India in the shootout against the Netherlands following it up with a field goal against World Champions Belgium.
Lalit Upadhyay's breathtaking skills need to be seen to believed. In the Asian Games group match against South Korea, the Indian striker darted forward to pursue a long ball scooped deep into opposition territory.
With a flat stick held mid-air, the Indian striker latched onto the ball as it descended and tapped one past the hapless Korean goalie at Jakarta.
An injury post the World Cup kept the Varanasi lad out of action for eight long months but pretty much nothing can keep Lalit Upadhyay away from the pitch for too long as the 26-year-old pointed out with a smile.
One of the bleak realities that sportsmen have to live with are injuries, but when they do happen one needs to be extremely determined in order to come out of the injury unscathed and return to action.
I would like to thank Hockey India for organizing a great rehab camp in Bangalore and also my teammates for being extremely supportive during my recovery period as a result of which it wasn't too difficult for me to start playing again.
Vivek Sagar was a picture of confidence as he strode ahead to take the shootout against the Netherlands in the Pro League. The teenager relives the big moment where he scored in a tie-breaker which helped the Indians win a bonus shootout point.
I had the confidence that I could do well in the shootout. I feel confidence is most important as once an individual feels he will be able to overcome a challenge, the task becomes a lot simpler. I knew that I would be able to score.
Vivek made his senior debut in the Four-Nations tournament in 2018 where the Indians took on mighty Belgium and did beat them once with a 5-4 scoreline.
The 19-year-old tells us how the encounter against the Red Lions in New Zealand was different from the recent clash at the Kalinga Stadium.
There was a lot more at stake in the Pro League match than the one we played in the Four-Nations tournament in New Zealand. As a result, the Belgians came at us a lot harder at Bhubaneswar than they did in the Four Nations.
Lalit agrees and says that playing the top teams in a tournament like the Pro League will be a priceless experience before the Olympic Games and the players truly believe that they can excel in Tokyo.
All the teams that are in the Pro League will also be in Tokyo and it is a great opportunity for us to see where we stand. We can also gain some much-needed experience against these teams which will be of great value during the Games.
As members of the Indian team who will represent the country at the Olympics, we have to believe that we can beat any team and we do believe we can.
The Pro League performance, thus far, has shown that we have the ability to match the best teams but we have to continue playing in the same manner in future as well.
If we keep improving with time, we are certain that the performance and the results will be satisfactory. I would request Indian fans to keep believing in us and support as well.
The Indians have done exceedingly well under the tutelage of coach Graham Reid and both players expressed admiration for the man who has been guiding them since April last year.
Lalit feels that all the players are now being given a chance to showcase their skills but the performance level continues to be high irrespective of which combination is used.
I feel that all the players are now being given a chance to prove their mettle so no one feels left out. Whoever does well is in with a chance of making it into the team.
Graham Reid is simple, positive, treats all the players fairly and gives an opportunity to all the players to prove their ability.
Despite the fact that the players are being rotated, the performance graph continues to be stady. Reid believes that the players need to be disciplined and the philosophy is clear and concise.
Vivek adds that the Chief Coach encourages the players to be happy on the eve of a big match - and during an encounter as well which helps them give their best on the pitch.
The coach always tells us to remain happy no matter what the match situation is - that, in turn, calms our nerves and helps us to perform well without forgetting what we were asked to do in the briefing sessions.
It was Vivek who had scored the all-important equalizer against Australia in the final of the Champions Trophy a couple a years ago.
The youngster feels that sticking to the game plan will be the key to success against the kookaburras - and in all the upcoming matches of the Pro League.
The mistakes which we committed in the previous matches need to be rectified and we cannot afford to repeat the same errors in future matches. Sticking to the game plan is an absolute must.
Following a sting operation in 2008 which threatened to derail Lalit's career for no fault of his, the lad from Uttar Pradesh has clawed his way back to the top. Life, he says, has taught him some invaluable lessons.
There are those who face problems early in life and there are those who encounter challenges later on in life. I have gone through a lot early in life and have learnt to deal with the negatives.
Self motivation is the key to success.
We are team with a mission and with a dream ahead of the Olympics. It would be foolish of me to make any predictions, but if we continue playing the way we are I feel we can challenge the best sides.
The Indians take on Australia in their next Pro League match on February 21 and 22 at the Kalinga Stadium.Published 20 Feb 2020, 10:43 IST