Surender: Last few months have been like a dream

Unlike several others in this team, there is nothing flamboyant about the lanky defender who prefers to stay away from the cameras, listen to music and keep things simple.

India's Surender Kumar (L) and Australia's Daniel Beale challenge for the ball during a Champions Trophy pool stage match.   -  AP

Five months ago, Surender Kumar had been out of even the core group of probables for the Olympics and had little hope of making the national team in near future. On Tuesday, he was named one of the 16 players to represent the country in hockey at Rio.

The fairytale may have come true but the 22-year old defender remains as shy as he was back then. “I have never spoken to the media, I don't know what to say,” he mumbled, before agreeing to answer any questions.

Back in February, Surender had said he was only hoping to force his way back into the core group through his hard work and performances in the Hockey India League.

“That was the original aim. Then I got my first chance with the national team at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, where the coaches tried me out. I did reasonably well there so the coaches gave me more chances, first at the Champions Trophy and then the Spain tour. They must have thought I did well, that's why they have now selected me for the Olympics,” Surender told Sportstar.

Surender was one of the stand-out players in the fourth edition of the HIL with his franchise, Delhi Waveriders, having enough faith to retain him ahead of stars like Sardar Singh. For the second year running, Surender was the bulwark of Delhi's defence and the silent worker whom the opposition found impregnable. A clean tackler and someone unafraid to throw his body around, Surender came for praise from experts during the Champions Trophy as well.

“Pressure at the CT was actually less that at Azlan Shah. I already had tournament experience and knew both my abilities and strengths and also the opposition players. Azlan Shah, however, was my first-ever senior tournament and I knew I had to give my best and perform well if I had any hopes of playing further for the country. But I also enjoyed that pressure because the coaches gave me a lot of encouragement,” said Surender, who played the junior World Cup in 2013.

Unlike several others in this team, there is nothing flamboyant about the lanky defender who prefers to stay away from the cameras, listen to music and keep things simple. He is also one of the most calm players on the field. “I don't do any thing special. I just don't think much and only do what the coaches suggest - focus on the ball and not commit too many fouls. You do get frustrated sometimes when there are mistakes but not too often,” he smiles, looking up for the first time throughout conversation.

“This journey in the last few months has been like a dream come true, I am happy. I used to think of this day. I first dreamt of it when I saw Sardar Singh play on television, when I was not even part of the junior camp. God has blessed me, my family has supported me and now I only hope to try and do my best under all the pressure of the Games,” he signed off.