HIL: Catching the eye

A few youngsters have shown the potential to play for India, from the recent Hockey India League.

Punjab Warriors, the HIL champion.   -  PTI

The fourth edition of the Hockey India League was for different reasons, good and bad. The new scoring rules, the proficiency of foreign stars and some brilliant and not so great performances from key Indian players have dominated the discussions. In the midst of all this, however, there have been a few Indian youngsters who have managed to stand out for their performances in the competition. Sportstar lists a few who have shown the potential to play for India.

Surender Kumar (defender, Delhi Waveriders)

The 22-year-old was part of the larger Indian core group before it was whittled down to the probables for the Rio Olympics. He may have missed the cut but the lanky defender has not let that affect his performance on the field. For the second year running, Surender has been the bulwark of Delhi’s defence. While his more fancied partner Rupinder Pal Singh is in the spotlight, Surender has been the silent worker whom the opposition teams find more impregnable at the back. Picking up the game after watching his elder brother Narender, Surender admits he is living his sibling’s dream and wants to force the selectors to accept him back among the national probables. That, though, is only the first step.

Amit Rohidas (defender, Kalinga Lancers)

Amit Rohidas has been on the fringes of national selection for a long time now. Part of the Indian side at the junior level, he has been unlucky for the fact that he has been trying to get into the team at a time when the Indian defence is doing pretty well. That, however, hasn’t stopped Rohidas from following in the footsteps of one of the greatest defenders the country has produced — Rohidas belongs to Saunamara village in the Sundergarh district of Odisha, same as Dilip Tirkey. And, like his idol, Rohidas has the temperament to thwart any attack without a fuss.

Varun Kumar (defender, Jaypee Punjab Warriors)

Varun Kumar had played in the Indian domestic circuit for long before getting his due on the international stage. The Hockey India League was the platform that unveiled him to the world and propelled him from playing in front of empty stands on the non-competitive domestic grind to the junior national side. The 20-year-old Punjab player ensured there was little for any opposition on the left flank, manning the Punjab defence with skill and maturity that belies his age and gives his team the freedom to go on repeated attacks.

Nilakanta Sharma (midfielder, Dabang Mumbai)

Nilakanta Sharma went dirt cheap during the 2015 HIL player auction but has repaid his team in more ways than expected. Bought for just USD2600, the 20-year-old had been part of every Mumbai move, every attack, every scoring chance created through the 10 league games. When he had no support upfront, he even stepped into the role of an aggressive striker effortlessly, scoring two field goals in crucial games. Even though Mumbai did not manage to make the cut for the semifinals, the stocky youngster from Manipur was largely responsible, along with German striker Florian Fuchs, for keeping the team in the race till that stage.

Imran Khan (midfielder, Ranchi Rays)

In a team that boasts of an array of top stars, both Indian and foreign, it isn’t easy to impress your coach enough to be listed as one of the key finds of the tournament. Imran Khan managed to do that, and more, as he was billed by coach Harendra Singh as one of the most improved and key players of his team. Even though the 20-year old is basically a midfielder — a tough job to keep in a side like Ranchi which has Ashley Jackson, Barry Middleton, Manpreet Singh and Kothajit Singh manning the half line — he has moved up and down the flanks with ease, doubling up as a striker and penetrating the opposition circle with ease. His main trial would come in the Junior World Cup at the end of this year.

Armaan Qureshi (forward, Jaypee Punjab Warriors)

Armaan Qureshi went for a meagre USD4500 during the player auctions and that was, perhaps, the best bargain buy any team managed for the fourth edition of the HIL. Qureshi admitted he was surprised at going for so less and made sure the team counted its blessings every time it took to the ground. Fast, skilful, intelligent and extremely talented despite his short frame, the nephew of former India international Hasrat Qureshi is a chip off the old block. At 21, the speedy forward has already made the world sit up and take note of his talent and dribbling skills, prompting some to push for his inclusion in the senior side. Junior India coach Harendra, of course, would have none of it with regard to what he calls his trump card upfront.

Gurjant Singh (forward, Dabang Mumbai)

Another cheap pick for Mumbai, Gurjant has matured into a more rounded player through the course of the tournament.

Starting as another youngster from the junior India ranks, trying to match pace with the more experienced seniors in the side, Gurjant has developed into a canny striker who can easily feint past defenders into the D and unselfishly set up others for scoring as well.

His ball control is terrific and has a temperament to match.

Lalit Upadhyay (forward, Kalinga Lancers)

Lalit Upadhyay has come a long way from being an unwilling, unaware subject of a sting operation that changed the course of hockey and its administration in India to being one of the key players in the national side and almost sure of making the cut for the Rio Olympics. Though he looks fragile, Upadhyay has a lot of strength and speed in those lean legs and puts them to good use while accelerating on the go to stun opposition defenders. The 22-year-old can twist and turn his way past the opposition with ease and has the skill to shoot successfully from far and acute angles. He also has the mental strength to overcome adversities and the hunger to prove his worth repeatedly.

Parvinder Singh (forward, Delhi Waveriders)

Another one from the junior India ranks, Parvinder Singh has combined well with captain Simon Child in the HIL to give consistency to Delhi’s strike force. He is fast down the flanks, accurate in his passing and knows how to keep the ball in play even under pressure near the backline. His trapping has improved a lot and the 20-year-old from Punjab’s Surjeet Hockey Academy has earned praise from coaches for keeping a calm head in crunch situations.