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EXCLUSIVE | I enjoy the pressure — Drag-flick king Rupinder Pal SIngh

EXCLUSIVE | I enjoy the pressure —  Drag-flick king Rupinder Pal SIngh

Md Imtiaz

Published: 3 Sep 2020 1:05 PM GMT

Indian men's hockey team's drag-flick sensation Rupinder Pal Singh is feeling rejuvenated at The Sports Authority of India (SAI) campus in Bengaluru after hockey practice sessions resume at the centre. The seasoned defender is focussing on building strength and find back his form on the field following the long hiatus stoked by the Coronavirus pandemic.

In an exclusive interview with The Bridge, the 29-year-old said, "It has been a crucial time for us at the SAI campus. Some of our players were tested COVID positive and were admitted to the hospital. They all came took time to recover and underwent quarantine. Now things are limping back to normalcy as we started training from the last week. It feels good to be back in training and also we have the task to regain our form back in a couple of months."

After missing the hockey World Cup held in Bhubaneswar in 2018, Rupinder Pal Singh thought of quitting the game altogether. But it was the support of his friend, family and team members that helped him recover from the phase.

"While I was taking a break from injury, my motivation was to recover as early as possible and be on the field with my team. I was mentally strong and positive, accepted my situation. I worked on my basics and with a lot of confidence and positivity around I got back into the team once again to showcase my mettle. My physios worked hard, my teammates were pretty supportive. My family and friends were very supportive throughout the phase," says Rupinder.

Rupinder Pal Singh after scoring his goal against Autralia at the FIH Pro Hockey League 2020 (Source: Hockey India) Rupinder Pal Singh after scoring his goal against Autralia at the FIH Pro Hockey League 2020 (Source: Hockey India)

He made his return to the team ahead of the European tour last year in Spain and also played India's Olympic qualifiers against Russia. But it was in the Hockey Pro League where he finally made his presence felt as he scored four goals in two matches to help India beat world No. 3 the Netherlands in successive matches. India faced-off again Belgium and Australia subsequently and won one of the two legs of matches against both the team. Rupinder scored two more goals against the Australians and showcased his stupendous expertise with drag-flick.

"I have been working on my angles and also my technique. I am not the only drag-flicker in the team, there are Harmanpreet, Varun and others with whom we discuss our areas of improvement freely. Plenty of credit also goes to Chris Ciriello, the former Australian drag-flicker who has been with the Indian team since early 2018. Together we have been analyzing the goalkeepers. Also, we have been discussing on when to make the last-minute changes," says Rupinder.

Rupinder has been a reliable force in the Indian men's hockey team since his debut at 2010 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. He has played 215 matches for India and scored 108 goals. In all years he has played, Rupinder has risen to plenty of occasions to give India a decisive victory scoring his impeccable drag-flicks in dying moments.

"I enjoy the pressure of taking drag-flicks in dying minutes of a match. A lot of times even when you are confident, you still end up missing the target. Recently against Australia, we were losing 4-2 and then I made it 4-3 from a penalty corner and then we again got a penalty corner but I missed the target. I was confident but it didn’t happen. It is a matter of learning from the game."

Also read: Rani Rampal’s Shahabad – The nursery of women’s hockey in India

Talking about the lockdown-imposed break he says: "The lockdown has been a learning period for the team, We were in Bengaluru for three-and-a-half months, and in between, we got a six-week break, when we went to our respective homes. We came back again in August. We had to continue our training no matter what because we have to maintain our fitness regime as a professional player and shine. We have two groups who start training in the morning. He adds, "The break has been the for all players, across the world. Everyone faced frustration. It is only about how you deal with the situation. If you take it positively, we have all the potential. We have a strong mentality to showcase our best at the Olympics. We need one-two months to resume our form, and we can do anything and do our hard work to win the medal."

The Indian men's hockey team has found a new momentum under coach Graham Reid, Rupinder praised his efforts and said, "Graham has been able to change the mindset of players. Our intensity of playing has been lifted as per his instructions. Our weekly training graphs has improved constantly. We pushed our limits and started playing attacking hockey. We helped each other, our hard work has paved way for success."

Despite playing for over 10 years and a career laden with glory and serving the country at the highest, Rupinder has been overlooked by the government who are yet to confer him with an Arjuna Award. But the Harayana lad is proud of Indian women's hockey team captain Rani Rampal's Khel Ratna award. He believes Rani's achievements are momentous for Indian hockey and would inspire a generation of players.

Also read: Harmanpreet Singh eager to see Hockey Pro League action back

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