Jasjit Singh Kular seems an unlikely member of the 18-man Indian squad for the Hockey World League semis. Kular, who has been included as a defender, replacing longtime resident Rupinderpal Singh, doesn’t immediately strike one as backline material.
In contrast to the towering Rupinderpal, Jasjit, who is also expected to double up as a drag flicker, is one of the smaller members of the side. And until the squad was named, Jasjit was hardly seen as a full time defender.
When he first made his debut for India at the 2014 World Cup, he featured as a midfielder. However, Jasjit doesn’t have a problem switching roles. “I don’t have a problem being a defender. I actually started out as a forward, then I became known as a midfielder. But there isn’t any position from right half to left back that I haven’t played. The game that is played now is total hockey and players have to adapt to any position they might have to play in,” he says.
Coach Paul van Ass is supremely confident in Jasjit’s ability. “He is very quick on his feet and a good passer. That was exactly the kind of player I was looking for. Additionally he is very secure in defence. I liked him right from the start,” says Van Ass of the Railways player who incidentally was named the midfielder of the tournament at last month’s hockey Nationals, won by his side.
While Jasjit has undoubtedly been enjoying a good run of form recently, it wasn’t always the case. “I was a late starter,” says the 25-year-old, who is the only one in the Indian squad never to have played for the country at the junior level.
It shouldn’t have been that way, considering he was born in Sansarpur. The small village located six kilometers from Jalandhar has long been one of Indian hockey’s nurseries with 14 Olympians born there. Jasjit’s grandfather too was part of this tradition, having played hockey for the Indian Army.
Hockey in his blood
“My grandfather Sardar Gurdayal Singh played hockey for the Sikh Regiment. But during the 1965 war, his father, (Jasjit’s great grandfather) went missing in action and his family forced him to quit the sport. But he always wanted the family to continue the link with the sport,” says Jasjit.
The link was lost to one generation and part of another. Both Jasjit’s parents and one sister are doctors. But with his parents support and innate passion for the sport, Jasjit played the game, even if a bit casually.
“I never joined an academy, which was something that was expected if you were serious about the game. I was mostly playing just for fun at the school level,” he says. While he featured in a school nationals, it was only because he was drafted in as an emergency player for a team who had several players disqualified for being overage.
With no serious hockey credentials, it helped that Jasjit was a good student. “My parents didn’t push me towards the medical line but they made sure I focused on my studies. In the class 12 board exams, I had the highest score in English in Jalandhar,” smiles Jasjit who would later graduate second in his class from Jalandhar’s Khalsa college.
Waiting in the wings
Making his college’s renowned hockey team was far harder. “When I wanted to play for Khalsa College, I had to give trials and was only one of around 30 players who was picked,” he recalls. Jasjit didn’t shine immediately there either.
“The first year I spent most of my time on the bench. I got a little bit of playing time in my second year but by the third year I made my place in the college and university teams. I was the best player at the inter-university tournament and that was how I was first picked for the senior national camp,” Kular says.
It was at the senior level that his early focus on education seems to have helped him out. “At the camp what international coaches say often needs to be translated for the players. It’s easier for me to understand what the coach wants. It also has another advantage because the coach also appreciates it when someone seems to respond better to the training,” he says.
Having made the national team, Jasjit knows his job isn’t done. After some strong performances in the HIL saw him making his debut at the 2014 World Cup, he was subsequently dropped and only made his comeback at the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament. Most recently he represented India in the final two games of the India-Japan series.
“I got injured after the Hockey World Cup so that didn’t help. At the same time, the squad at the WC was an 18-man one while the one for the CWG and the Asian Games had fifteen players. So it was going to be hard for me, being the least experienced player, to find a spot in the line-up. But I made the most of my experience. Playing at the highest level is what every player dreams of,” he says.
As such the World League semifinals is just one step towards his ultimate goal — becoming the 15th Olympian from Sansarpur. “Even when I was playing school hockey, the goal was always the Olympics. The World League is just a starting point to that goal,” he says.