For close to 15 months now, Gurjinder Singh hasn’t had his daily quota of doodh and lassi. The makkhan on the paranthas too is a thing of the past. Every time he visits home, his mother worriedly wonders if his son has acquired some strange illness. “She keeps on nagging me that I’ve lost weight. It’s tough to explain her the demands of professional sport,” Gurjinder says.
The result is striking. The chubby-faced Gurjinder first burst on to the scene as a teenager two years ago, when he won the player of the tournament in the now-defunct World Series Hockey (WSH). At the Champions Trophy here, he wears a leaner, more muscular, look. He claims to have lost several kilos since making his senior team debut last year. It’s there for you to see. The baby fat on his face and around waist has disappeared.
The 20-year-old defender lets out a shy smile when you mention it to him. “Kaafi mehnat karni padi hai,” he says. “But I knew that I had to improve my fitness to find a place in the senior team consistently.” India’s high performance director Roelant Oltmans agrees. “Earlier, he was just a hockey player. But now he looks like an athlete. That’s made a huge difference,” the Dutchman points out.
Not too long ago, Gurjinder was an outcast in Indian hockey. His stint in the WSH had made him, and several others, in the national team pariahs. But his talent was hard to be overlooked. The son of a small-time farmer from Sangatpura village in Gurdaspur district of Punjab was called to the national camp early last year, and has made rapid progress since.
Playing only his third major tournament with the senior team, Gurjinder has been one of India’s stand-out performers in the group stage matches of the Champions Trophy here. Be it in his primary role as a defender or as a free-man, producing one precise pass after other, the youngster has been a powerful presence on the field.
Against Argentina and Holland, especially, Gurjinder had a near-flawless game. He looked aggressive and confident while tackling while unsettling the defences with his long, cross-field passes.
One of those passes led to a goal, when Akashdeep Singh deflected in an approximately 60-yard pass from Gurjinder from against Argentina.
However, the key responsibility handed to him seems to be short corners. Out of the six penalty corners India have earned in their opening three matches, Gurjinder has taken five. He has had limited success, scoring one and had another one ruled out.
Before joining the national camp, Gurjinder stayed back on the field after every alternate training session and practiced close to 250-300 drag flicks. It’s a routine he has followed for as long as he can remember. One that he says has helped him learn the craft minutely. At the camp, the focus has been on honing it.
“We look at various things during the video sessions like wrist positions, which helps in finding new angles. The focus is also on generating more power, for which I spend a lot of time in the gym,” he says.
India vs Belgium
India’s defence will have to bring its A game if they harbour hopes of beating Belgium in Thursday’s quarterfinal. Belgium’s attacking prowess can be gauged by the fact that they came down from 3-0 down to end 4-4 against world champions Australia. They are a side who know how to exploit an opponent’s weakness. At the same time, the Indian forwards too will have to convert half chances.
Belgium are among the only two unbeaten teams — other being England. On Wednesday, the Indian team spent considerable time practicing how to defend long balls from the 25-yard line. This has been one of Belgium’s strong points and with the likes of Tom Boon, Tanguy Cosyns and Jerome Truyens in their ranks, they are sure to create issues for the fragile Indian defence.
when India met Belgium in the quarterfinals of the previous Champions Trophy, they emerged 1-0 winners. But tables have turned since then, with Belgium having an upper hand since then. India will also have to guard against complacency of having beaten Holland in the last group stage match. It’s a factor that Roelant Oltmans has been working on, constantly reminding players about the importance of this match. A defeat here and India’s medal hopes will be dashed.
More than once against Holland, defender Rupinderpal Singh put the Indian defence under pressure by making errors. Against Boon & Co. Rupinderpal will have to be more assured and aggressive while also be more precise with his drag-flicks.
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