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It would not be too far-fetched to call 2016 a significant turning point in Indian Hockey. Not only did the Junior team regale the country by winning the world cup but the tournament has also ended up setting the tone of the game in India for days to come. A little more than the year on from the victory, notable faces from the team have ended up subtly modifying the hockey landscape. One prominent name from the team was 22-year old Armaan Qureshi. As soon as one finds themselves face to face with him, the next feature which strikes out is the level of seriousness he brings to the table. Off the turf, Qureshi is just another youngster with the typical quirks of adolescent boys. He idolises Salman Khan; he loves gorging on biriyani. He dreams of incorporating the best skills of his favourite Lionel Messi someday. Armaan Qureshi on the field, however, is a powerhouse. Picture: Souvik Roy Chowdhury As he plays in the practice games with his captain and other senior Hockey players in the camp, listening attentively to the instructions that are directed at him, Armaan Qureshi's hunger to excel is visible. Perhaps that is one of the best things about having a team that is so interestingly mixed of juniors and seniors. In a way, each playing generation can help the other grow. "It's about creating that healthy competition," says Qureshi to The Bridge in a sit and talk after a gruelling session at the SAI turf. Coach Sjoerd Marijne was particularly confident at the end of it, and he topped it off with a healthy dose of motivation; something which will only help the boys get better. "I think the one message that Coach has given us is that no one's place is secure in the team. If you want to play for your country, you must prove yourself worthy- and you must do so repeatedly. That's how you achieve consistency." If you feel that Qureshi speaks with a wisdom and understanding of the game that is apparently beyond his years, you might be surprised to realise that he is not alone in this. Coach Marijne, in his so far short association with the Men's team, has made one thing quite clear- that his policy is based on change. In his mission to find the perfect world-class combination within the fantastic talent pool of Indian Hockey, Marijne has made sure that not one player can take his or her place in the team for granted. "It keeps us on our toes and helps us grow," Qureshi observes. And that observation by Qureshi may help us get a little glimpse into the strategies the team plans to follow in the upcoming 4 Nations Men's Hockey tournament in Belgium. Yesterday, the team left for the much-anticipated competition with the heavy burden of hopes and expectations pinned on to them. As usual, the selected group is a fascinating mix of the young and the old on paper. Four Junior level players have made the cut into the team for the upcoming tour, and the young forward Armaan Qureshi is one among them. "See, 2018 is an important year for Indian Hockey," Qureshi says. "All I can say is that I have been given an opportunity to prove myself on this tour and I plan on making the most of it. It would be a dream to make my place in the teams representing India in competitions like the Commonwealth and the Asiads." This spirit is heartening. While most boys his age dream of attending college and making it big, it seems that Armaan has had greatness thrust upon him from a very young age. The nephew of Hasrat Qureshi, a big name in Indian Hockey in the decade spanning over the 90s, Armaan's exposure to Hockey came at a very young age. In fact, even before the star player had begun seriously considering Hockey as a career, it was his father who tilted his aspirations that way. "I have been playing Hockey for the past ten years now. In some ways, I would say that I was lucky to have a Hockey player in my family itself. I learnt everything I needed to in my initial days from him, and some of his teaching remains valid and important even today." "You know, if I say that it was my father who encouraged me to take up Hockey after my uncle, it sounds like he had no other influence in my life other than pushing me towards the game. That would be wrong. On and off the field, I would not be the person I am today without him. He has been my biggest supporter and critic." Bhopal-born Armaan is the son of a meat shop owner. At 22, he already knows everything that is at stake with his family, and he is prepared to fight the odds to achieve his team. Luckily, his interactions with the Senior members of the squad do the trick. "As a junior level player, I found that competing with world-class teams who are all hungry for a win quite challenging. It was definitely tough when you know all your opponents are equally capable of victory. Reaching the senior level has made me realise that this, right now, is a whole different ballgame. Things are more demanding on this side." "Personally speaking, this is where the significance of the Hockey India League comes in. I would say that it has made my transition from the junior way of doing things all the way here, quite smoother. For that experience, I'll be grateful." Picture: Souvik Roy Chowdhury When Armaan first wielded the hockey stick, he was just 13. Like every other kid in this country, Armaan's tryst with sports predictably began with cricket before he found his calling elsewhere. Stories about him describe him as being the one who was perpetually good at games from a very young age. Since turning 13, Qureshi has not looked back after he successfully translated his passion into a career. "So far the best compliment I ever got from anyone was a man who compared to Dhanraj Pillay. He once told me that if I continue playing the way I do, one day I might even surpass the legend." "I mean, it's not something I took seriously, but it's still nice to know," he laughingly adds. "You have to look at the bigger picture here. Today, it is impossible to point to one particular team as the dominant force in World Hockey. Look at the Hockey World League Finals. Just when you had written us off, we proved everyone wrong with a podium finish." "We aim to always use the past as lessons. Our penalty corner conversion rates and circle penetrations seemed a little wobbly in Bhubaneshwar. 2018 is the year we have to be perfect," Qureshi concluded wisely. As an outsider, one cannot help but marvel at the coexistence this Indian team exemplifies. The old-timers and the new, the serious and the jolly- they all come together to form the one cohesive unit that is so familiar to us. The team which has, time and again, made us all proud. With Armaan Qureshi building an essential cog in that wheel, what drives him? "After the Junior World Cup triumph, I was out injured for quite some time. It was during this that I learnt patience." "The one thing I cannot stand is someone underestimating me or my competence. When I was unable to play for quite some time, there seemed to be a million reasons to get demotivated and pessimistic about my recovery." And as an afterthought, Qureshi adds, "Only a player can understand what it's like to be forced out of play." But all that is in the past. If anything, Armaan is more than excited about the year ahead. "You know my lesson in patience? I am going to translate that into my game this year. 2017 taught me the negatives of acting rashly. Patience in the circle- that's what I'll work towards." Somewhere along the line, youth transformed into maturity in Armaan Qureshi. All we can do is wish him best for what is undoubtedly going to be a bright future for him.