Junior Asia Cup: Hail HIL!

The distinguished aspect of the 2015 Junior Asia Cup has been the dominance of the men in blue. The Hockey India League (HIL) has been the most instrumental of all in providing a perfect platform to these youngsters who, at this grooming age, have been rubbing shoulders with the most experienced and exciting hockey icons from across the world.

The Indian team celebrates after the victory.   -  PTI

‘Never give in to growing challenges but channelise your expertise in eliminating them.’

With the recent triumph of the Indian team in the Junior Asia Cup hockey, and the growing confidence amongst the young players in India, I can proudly say that Indian hockey now has more players who dare to dream and deliver.

This is not the first time the juniors have won the Asia Cup. India and Pakistan, since the introduction of the tournament in 1987, have won the title three times each. India, however, have won three of the last four editions (2004, 2008 and 2015).

The most distinguished aspect of the 2015 edition has been the unique signs of dominance shown by the men in blue in all quarters including the huge winning margin against Pakistan in the final.

We also need to understand that the success with Indian juniors has not been a result of overnight awakening but a collaborated effort by the Ministry of Sports, the Sports Authority of India and Hockey India. The exercise of encouraging and training them young has been backed by the required financial support along with international hockey exposure.

To me, the Hockey India League (HIL) has been the most instrumental of all in providing a perfect platform to these youngsters who, at this grooming age, have been rubbing shoulders with the most experienced and exciting hockey icons from across the world. The six weeks of world-class hockey with the financial bonus has given the juniors the impetus to just concentrate on the possible future with popularity and prosperity as the added elements.

Nearly all the members of the current list of young players have been an integral part of the six HIL franchises. They have strongly made a mark of their own. These talented young stars, notably Harmanpreet Singh, Mandeep Singh, Dipsan Tirkey, Varun Kumar, Jasjit Singh, Santa Singh, Armaan Qureshi, goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya and a few others will constantly be trying to exploit the potential space that should be available to them in the near future.

Considering the shortage of good goalkeepers in India, I am delighted to see the promise shown by Vikas Dahiya, declared the best at the Junior Asia Cup. In today’s hockey, the power of a drag-flicker will always draw special attention. Harmanpreet, with his consistency, not only became the highest scorer with 15 goals in the tournament but also endorsed the credibility of a drag-flicker and the value of this unique goal-scoring technique.

I remember the times when Indian hockey was struggling to find a decent drag-flicker, and now, over the past few years, Indian hockey has been blessed with the services of numerous drag-flickers who are born with the natural skills. I truly believe that this booming confidence among the juniors, a regular phenomenon since years, has not boosted the transition of the juniors to the senior level. It is a long process and tends to lose momentum over a period.

Looking at the past, wherein we have always been more consistent at the junior level, an average of 6-9 players easily made it to the senior squad immediately after the Junior World Cup, which generally falls after the Olympic Games, thus giving the coaches the time to work on building a team for the next Olympics. The senior World Cup also contributes every two years.

To develop these young players into accomplished ones, we need to provide them the space to mature and grow, both mentally and physically, with a clear time frame before inducting them into the senior squad. This will not only keep the seniors on their toes but also encourage those who are knocking at the door. Credibility can only be established over a period of time. There are no shortcuts.

The transition of junior players to the senior level is a systematic process that requires time and planning. Any decision in a rush might do more harm than good. The experience of chief coach Harendra Singh, along with the specialised goalkeeping expertise of Olympian Romeo James, and the flawless attacking tips of Olympian Sameer Dad, have come in very handy while successfully coaching the current junior team.

It is at this stage, when the juniors have tasted success, that they better understand from now on it only has to get bigger. The hunger to achieve at a larger global platform has to grow further.

The objective of the masters should not stop at being satisfied with such successes but keep pushing each individual. While history may mention participants, it remembers and honours only the winners.

The winning habit has to be a part of the players’ training process. They have to dream big and behave like true professionals, who not only target the upcoming Junior World Cup 2016 at home, but also strive to graduate to the senior ranks with their growing confidence and commitment towards the creation of a corpus of aggressive and aspiring young players willing to take on the world.

All these years, not for once have I ever felt any dearth of skill or players with exceptional quality in India, but the change in training and grooming methods from the old style to the modern hockey system is critical. As we all understand well, the challenge for Indian hockey is not in finding the talent but in training the available talent. Regular top-level international competitions in India have inspired the performances of talented youngsters available in abundance here. They have the drive and the spirit to win the coveted position. The goal now waits to be realised…

(The writer is a former India centre-forward and Olympian)