Gursahibjit Singh - New addition to India's strike force

After a successful outing with the India U21 team in the 2018 Sultan of Johor Cup, 20-year-old Gursahibjit Singh made his debut against Japan in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in March this year.

20-year-old Gursahibjit Singh scored against Japan in the 2019 FIH Series final last four fixture.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

2019 has been quite a phenomenal year for the 20-year-old Gursahibjit Singh, who has consolidated his position in the senior India hockey setup.

After a successful outing with the Indian under-21 team at the 2018 Sultan of Johor Cup, the youngster received his first call-up to the senior men’s team for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in March 2019 and made his debut against Japan. He also scored in the final of FIH Series Finals recently as India defeated South Africa 5-1 to take a further step to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Gursahibjit, hailing from Gurdaspur district in Punjab, learned the basics of hockey from his brother and uncle. “My uncle, Shamsher Singh, is my inspiration. He did not play much at the highest level, but I started playing because of him,” the forward says.

After spending three years in a residential hockey academy near Batala, an 11-year-old Gursahibjit was asked by his then coach, Ranjit Singh, to join the Surjit Hockey Academy in Jalandhar, which has a rich history of producing Olympians since its inception in 1984.

“His skills at the time were alright. But he had the physique and explosive pace, which are the basic needs to play at the highest level,” Avtar Singh, the renowned coach of the academy, says. “Though he was very young, he was very focused and mature.”

The young forward faced an early disappointment when he was ignored for the junior national team despite performing well at the Junior National Championship in January 2018. “Not making it to the junior team broke his heart,” Avtar remembers. “He was very disappointed. His game slackened. I had to be hard on him, because he is very good. I assured him that this was not the end."

Gursahibjit, soon, made it to the junior national camp in May 2018 and was selected for the Sultan of Johor Cup in Malaysia after impressing coach Jude Felix.

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Gursahibjit Singh was part of the India U21 side which finished runner-up to Great Britain in the 2018 Sultan of Johor cup.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

Despite some strong showings. Including a thrilling 5-4 win over Australia, India went down 3-1 to Great Britain in the final, failing to capitalise on the forward’s early opening goal. 

Six-months later, the player was selected for the senior team camp in Bhubaneswar. He made it to the squad for the 2019 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in April as India fielded a young team and Gursahibjit made his debut against Japan. “I could feel the pressure. But what do you do, you have to learn to control yourself,” he says.

Playing alongside seniors and batchmate Hardik Singh from Surjit Hockey Academy helped him to settle in. “All of them have made their debuts before me, so they understand how things are at the international level. Even if I make mistakes, they explain it to me in a very friendly manner,” he says.

The tour of Australia in April followed, which was India’s first assignment under Graham Reid and everyone was eager to impress the new coach. Gursahibjit looked to his mentor for advice. “Make sure that you ask the new coach what he expects from you and what is your role in the team. Don’t think twice. Come up with questions so that you can prove that you are willing to do anything for the team,” Avtar remembers telling his ward.

The Australian tour was a mixed bag for India where it lost two of its Test matches and sterner tests awaited Gursahibjit and the team as it embarked on its Olympic qualification quest through the FIH Series Finals.

Despite recording convincing wins of 10-0, 3-1, 10-0, 7-2, 5-1 and securing a spot in November’s Olympic Qualifiers, India was not at its free-flowing best in Bhubaneswar. The forward line missed too many chances from close range and Gursahibjit, too, was guilty of squandering gilt-edged chances. “I never allow negative thoughts to creep in. Our preparation has been very good, and I am hopeful of doing well at the qualifiers,” he says.