Harmanpreet Singh was just 10 years old when he snuck his way atop his father’s tractor. The son of a farmer in Jandiala Guru township, a village in the outskirts of Amritsar, was fascinated by the giant wheels of the massive farm vehicle. Much to young Harmanpreet’s surprise, his father did not object to his wish to drive the machine. “He used to tell me to drive straight and turn on his command. I did exactly as he told,” recalls Harmanpreet, who on Saturday’s HIL player auction was picked up by Dabang Mumbai for $51,000.
While he wasn’t lacking in enthusiasm, Harmanpreet faced an unexpected battle with the rusty gear stick. It took a toll on the shoulders and arms, but steadily he developed enough strength to out-muscle the errant stick shift. Eight years on, the vital cog of India junior team’s recent triumphant performance at the Sultan of Johor Cup attributes the power he generates for the drag-flicks to his jostle with the gear stick.
The 18-year-old scored nine goals in the tournament, all from penalty corners. Not only were the shots low and powerful, often the goalkeepers were deceived by the use of supple wrist that changed the trajectory of the hits at the last moment.
Even at the ongoing Bombay Gold Cup, where he is representing employers BPCL, Harmanpreet’s defensive work-rate and powerful drag-flicks have been the talk of the tournament. The experience in training he received at the camps before his first international trip proved invaluable to the development of his art. Initial penalty corner practice sessions with a normal hockey ball were soon replaced by the coaches with a heavier ball to generate more force. But for Harmanpreet, power was never really an issue. “When I first got into the camp they were happy with how much speed I could get on the ball. I used to mess up on the direction,” he says.
While the strength generated from his fight with the tractor gear had laid the foundation for the physically demanding set-piece, he fine-tuned the art with stints at the Surjeet Academy in Jalandhar. Harmanpreet moved to the famed institution in 2011 as an aspiring forward. “But the coach saw me play and said I was better defender. So he made me switch,” he recalls.
Practicing with the back-line got him in touch with academy seniors Gaganpreet Singh and Sukhjeet Singh, fellow penalty-corner specialists who also played as full-backs. “I used to watch them work on drag-flicks after our practice session. They told me that since I too was a full-back, I should join them,” he adds.
Harmanpreet, thanks to his recent exploits in Malaysia, has himself developed a following back in his village. And now he has even started to motivate others to pick up the sport. “There’s one boy who meets me every time I go back. He has picked up a hockey stick recently. Whenever I go home, I teach him a few things,” he says.,”