Bengaluru: In more ways than one, Team India is experiencing a renaissance of sorts in the midst of a new Olympic cycle. While Tokyo 2020 may be a while away, new foundations are being laid for this team, with youth complementing experience and shouldering the burden of expectation that rises from our nation. One such name that jumps off the page at a time when India passes through a heady period in 2017’s hockey calendar is Manpreet Singh – the newly-installed captain leading the Men in Blue that departs on Sunday for the upcoming three-nation tour in Dusseldorf.
The 24-year-old halfback was a key figure in India’s junior unit and has found himself being thrust into greater responsibility with the senior side owing to regular captain and goalkeeper PR Sreejesh’s knee injury at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.
However, the new role doesn’t faze him and he believes the team’s strength of character and togetherness is what will lead them to success. “I don’t feel the pressure of being the captain. On the field, we are all captains. Whether I am wearing the armband or not, everyone is a leader in our team. That means if one player is down, others can help push someone up and motivate them,” quipped the Champions Trophy silver-medallist from Jalandhar.
What sets Manpreet apart for head coach Roelant Oltmans to bestow him with the captaincy, in a team that already boasts stalwarts like Sardar Singh, is his tactical adherence.
“The good thing about Manpreet is that he someone who really understands the demands of the coaches. He knows what our game plan is like and why we have to execute it like that, and he is able to coach his team-mates,” the Dutchman said.
Strangely enough, the Sultan Azlan Shah has been a harbinger of change for Manpreet. The 2016 edition proved especially difficult for him, as he left Malaysia as a bereaved son. “I lost my father last year. My team-mates helped me a lot. It was difficult for me to go back. I was sad at various times during the camp but my teammates helped me a lot. They were there when I needed them and I am grateful,” he recalls.
Fast forward and Manpreet forged the strength to represent India at the Rio Olympics and Champions Trophy and is set to inspire his dynamic team in Dusseldorf. From there, India will face the likes of Holland, Argentina, Scotland and arch-rivals Pakistan at the World Hockey League semifinals in London.
His thoughts on the upcoming assignments represent the steely mentality required to be a world-beater. “We can’t underestimate any side. Teams like Holland, Great Britain and Pakistan, among others, will all want to give their best. It doesn’t concern us or put extra pressure on us knowing that Pakistan is in our group,” the new skipper said, signing off.