Not good enough for India, Walmiki and Harjeet making most of Dutch experience

Aiming for a comeback into the national hockey team, Devinder Walmiki and Harjeet Singh are plying their trade in the Dutch top-division league.

Devinder Walmiki in action for HGC in the Dutch top-division hockey league Hoofdklasse.   -  special arrangement

Playing for the national team may be the ultimate ambition for most hockey professionals across the world, the holy grail, however, remains the Dutch League. Only two Indians have managed to not just make the cut there this season but also play the European League.

Devinder Walmiki and Harjeet Singh may have been cast out of the Indian side but have earned enough plaudits with H.O.C. Gazellen-Combinatie, or HGC, one of the oldest and prestigious clubs in the Hoofdklasse, the top-division Dutch league. After a month-long winter break, the duo would be rejoining the club for the second half of the Dutch season on February 20.

“I have played in the German league for three years and was looking to experience the Dutch league. Everyone knows it is the best and toughest domestic league in the world, all the top guys from across the world play there. When (former India coach) Paul van Ass took charge of HGC last year, I got in touch with him. I already had offers from HC Bloemendaal and SV Kampong but my comfort level with Paul made me decide on HGC,” Walmiki told Sportstar.

HGC finished third in the league last season and qualified for the reformatted EHL in 2019-20, reaching the KO16 stage before narrowly missing out on a spot in the top-eight. “We are still third in the league. Our target is to finish in the top-three and qualify again for the EHL. Personally, I can say point-bank that the level of competition and professionalism in the Dutch league is so high that I don’t think any Asian side can match up to them,” Walmiki said.

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That Malaysia lost 1-4 to HGC ahead of their Olympic qualifiers proves his point. The current squad includes Argentine Maico Casella and Kento Tanaka of Japan with the likes of Ashley Jackson, Gonzalo Peillat and Tanguy Cosyns being past players. The only other Indian to play in top-flight Dutch league in the past was Sardar Singh, who turned out for Bloemendaal.

Harjeet, meanwhile, admitted it was huge culture shock both on and off the field but has now accustomed to it. “You get to learn so much about European hockey and their structure. Playing other Dutch top-level teams is big enough but playing in the EHL against the best from all of Europe is a huge thing,” the former junior India captain said.

“I think they are both very good and very important members of our side. Walmiki is a warrior and is comfortable with the culture and system here given his past European experiences. For Harjeet, this is his first outing in a European league and so he has taken some time to get used to it but he is getting there,” van Ass said from Holland.

Unlike many former coaches Van Ass, whose son Seve is part of the Dutch national side and the club, has kept track of the Indian team and was even present during the first leg of the Pro League in Bhubaneswar recently. “Devinder should be part of the national set-up, he is at that level. Harjeet, because he was out for a long time, is now on his way back and I am sure by the time the season ends (in June) should be perfectly placed to join him. But it is up to the Indian selectors,” the Dutchman asserted.

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