Harendra Singh: 'Harjeet has earned the team's respect'

A lot is riding on Harjeet's young shoulders as India prepares for next month's Junior World Cup in Lucknow.

Harjeet Singh with P. R. Sreejesh at the SAI training complex.   -  K. Murali Kumar

It is clear that Harjeet Singh is a leader. As the junior Indian hockey team reaches the end of a gruelling training session on the blue turf at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) complex here, players are sprawled by the touchline, resting in the shade. Harjeet, though, is helping the support staff pack up. Face-masks and gloves, he notices, are still missing from a big box in the dug-out. “Penalty corner waalon,” he yelled out. “Hurry up.” His colleagues wearily lift themselves off the floor, walk over, and drop their equipment off.

“Harjeet has the team's respect,” claimed Harendra Singh, the coach. “He does not demand it. But he gets it because he has earned it. During a match, whenever he finds that the team is not focused, he immediately takes command and brings them back.”

A lot is riding on Harjeet's young shoulders as India prepares for next month's Junior World Cup in Lucknow. The centre-half has enjoyed a fantastic 12 months, during which he has led India to victory in the Junior Asia Cup, won Hockey India's 'Upcoming Player of the Year' award, and been a part of the senior side at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and the Champions Trophy.

“It's been a good year,” responded Harjeet with a smile. “I've learnt a lot playing at the senior level. The game is faster there and players make fewer mistakes. Sardar Singh makes it so easy to play alongside him. He's the best centre-half in the world: the way he creates space, finds passes, and positions himself.”

Harjeet is modest in describing his own achievements, but Harendra cannot praise his game highly enough. “He's the finest distributor in the team,” he said. “He's got good attacking and defensive skills, which is very rare for a centre half. His fitness is excellent. That, along with his crisp passing and vision make him a special player.”

Harjeet's rising stature in the game is now a matter of great pride in the Singh household but things were not always so. The son of a truck-driver from Kurali in Punjab, Harjeet admitted childhood was hard. “My father drives trucks for a living. He does whatever work he finds. When I first told my mother I wanted to play hockey, she refused. But once I started doing well, nobody stopped me. Our family was in a lot of financial difficulty. But God has helped us and things are better now.”

After he was signed up by Delhi Waveriders for 2000 USD in the 2016 Hockey India League, Harjeet embarked on building a house for his family. When a cash prize of Rs.10 lakh came his way at the Hockey India awards in March, it was gratefully received. “We have lived with our uncle all along; we don't have a house of our own,” the 20-year-old said. “But construction is almost complete now. Only the carpentry work remains. We'll move there after the World Cup.”