In 2017, when Vishal Antil, a talented attacking midfielder, came into the Junior National Coaching Camp in SAI, Bengaluru, he would closely observe his Senior compatriot Sardar Singh who trained at the same campus. The former India Captain's discipline, his focus on the game and professionalism made Antil look up to him. "You didn't really have to interact with him to learn but just watch him go about his everyday routine. He was so disciplined and focused, he never let outside factors affect him mentally and he always took care of his body. The lights in his room would be switched off at 9.30 PM everyday, these are qualities of a great player," recalled Antil of his idol.
"For a junior player new in the national fold, there was so much to learn from Sardar though I never got a chance to interact with him or mustered courage to go speak to him, but I would always observe him and I always looked up to him and his discipline was infectious," says Antil who was part of the Indian team that won the Bronze Medal in 2017, and the Silver Medal in 2018 at the Sultan of Johor Cup, Malaysia.
Though Antil was out of action with an ankle fracture for almost 6-7 months in 2019, and also missed the Sultan of Johor Cup last year where the team returned runners-up, he was gearing up to do well for the team in the Junior Asia Cup in Dhaka which was indefinitely postponed due to the Covid19 pandemic. "This team has been playing together over the past three years and we had shaped up well as a unit. We have also done well against good teams like Australia and lost closely to Great Britain in Sultan of Johor Cup. I feel, barring Malaysia who could have given us a tough fight, we were poised to do well and win the Junior Asia Cup," expressed Antil.
Vishal Antil (Source: Hockey India)
Even though India has a direct entry for the Junior World Cup next year by virtue of being the hosts, winning the Junior Asia Cup would setup a good momentum to defend the title feels Antil. "Winning the Asia Cup and earning a berth for the Junior World Cup would be a matter of confidence and going into the Junior World Cup as Continental Champions would be ideal. We will be working hard to achieve this feat when the event is rescheduled," the midfielder from Kurar Ibrahimpur, Haryana added.
Having picked up hockey at the age of 12, Antil honed his skills as a player in Chandigarh Hockey Academy and now vies to earn a spot in the Senior Core probables group. "I was called for the Senior Camp in 2018 before the World Cup where I got to learn about the structure and expectations to play at this level. Lalit Upadhyay, Harmanpreet and Sumit helped me lot during those days and watching seniors like Sreejesh and SV Sunil, how they remain focused on every session was a learning experience for me," he expressed.
With the Junior National Camp yet to be called, Antil like his other compatriots awaits to return to training. "Currently I am training in Sonipat along with Sumit (midfielder from Senior Core Group) but I would definitely love to return to SAI, Bengaluru and resume training along with my team. The next 18 months is crucial for the Indian Colts with the Junior World Cup coming up, though I won't be in the age bracket for the World Cup once the event comes, I would want to contribute to the team in whatever way I can," he said.