Vivek Sagar Prasad and Lalremsiami - Reliving the journey of two rising stars of Indian hockey
Cherubic, diminutive, bashful and packed with oodles of talent - Vivek Sagar Prasad and Lalremsiami burst onto the Indian hockey scene like a breath of fresh air and have cemented their place in the senior squad despite numerous challenges on and off the pitch.
Two phenomenal young athletes with humble beginnings whose sublime skill and fiery determination catapulted them to the senior national side while in their teens have both been picked as FIH's Rising Stars for the Year 2019.
Young Vivek Sagar Prasad was spotted by Ashok Kumar, son of the legendary Dhyan Chand when the former India international was invited as a chief guest in a tournament where the young prodigy was in action.
In an interview with Sportskeeda last year, Vivek relived the big moment that was to change his life forever.
"Ashok Kumar was the chief guest when I was playing a tournament in Maharashtra and that was when he approached me and wanted to know if I would be interested in joining the academy he was associated with."
"He told me at the time that he had never made such an offer to any other player in the past. I actually stayed with him for a couple of months."
"My folks at home did not follow hockey a lot - but were no doubt familiar with Dhyan Chand's legacy, and were confident that I would definitely have a lot to gain from being coached by the son of the legend."
A collarbone injury in 2016 very nearly derailed a promising career but Vivek was not one to be cowed down and overcame a bout of depression to make his way back and into the senior squad in early 2018.
The lad from Madhya Pradesh who idolizes fellow midfielder Manpreet Singh has the unique knack of scoring vital goals when his teams need them the most.
In the final of the Champions Trophy at Breda, Vivek first kept the Australians at bay by engaging in a defensive role before scoring the equalizer for India just before the end of the third quarter.
It was the goal that took the match into a shootout and resulted in a memorable silver medal for the Indians.
Not much has changed in 2020 with the 19-year-old striding confidently to take a successful shootout against the Netherlands and helping India find the equalizer against Belgium in the Hockey Pro League.
Much like Vivek, 19-year-old Lalremsiami has traversed a long and inspiring path which began from a once-nondescript town in Mizoram, now made famous thanks to the young striker's exploits.
The youngster from Kolasib who spoke neither English nor Hindi got over her bashfulness and bridged the language barrier with the help of her teammates to forge an infrangible bond that truly exemplifies what the Indian women's hockey team is all about.
Siami first played for India in the U-18 Asia Cup in Bangkok in 2016. In a crucial encounter against the Chinese, she gave India the lead as early as the 7th minute and added a second just before half-time to help her team prevail by a 3-2 margin.
She was just as effective at the senior level and scored against Singapore in the very first match of the 2017 Asia Cup in Japan before scoring India's fourth in the semifinal against the host nation.
At the Asian Champions Trophy at Donghae, in 2018, the Indians were without the services of captain Rani Rampal who was rested for the tournament.
The Golden Girls were trailing 0-1 with just over ten minutes to go in the group match against Korea when Lalremsiami took it upon herself to restore parity. The Mizo striker forced her way into the Korean circle and earned a PC.
Gurjit Kaur's drag-flick was padded away by the Korean goalie, but Siami dived down in a jiffy to latch onto the deflection in spite of being shadowed by three Korean players. She took a tumble but in the process, acrobatically scooped the ball into the net and India drew level much to the delight of her senior teammates.
In an interview with Sportskeeda after the tournament, Siami recalled the moment with a smile.
"Gurjit jee had told us to be prepared in case there was a rebound. So, I was ready and as soon as I got a chance, I lifted the ball past the goalie."
The girl from Kolasib won the Rising Star Player U-21 award at Donghae despite being just 18!
Talent alone does not suffice to succeed on the international stage and Siami displayed an exemplary level of grit and determination to take the field in the face of adversity following her father's death a day before the semifinal of the FIH Series Finals in Hiroshima last year.
The Indians had to beat Chile to make it to the Olympic qualifiers and despite receiving the devastating news of her father's demise, Siami stayed away from the funeral to lend support to her team in the all-important clash.
Siami's coordination upfront with senior strikers Rani Rampal, Vandana Katariya, and Navjot Kaur among others, has changed forever the way the Indian eves are perceived by their opponents around the world.
A team that once relied solely on a strong defence to keep rival forwards at bay now prefers taking the attack to the opposition with Lalremsiami being an indispensable part of the unit.
Tokyo 2020 beckons for both the Indian men's and women's teams - but for Vivek Prasad and Lalremsiami, the journey is just beginning.Published 12 Feb 2020, 10:12 IST