Hockey World Cup 2018: Fighting his way past the odds, Varun Kumar comes of age

Man of the match in India's 2-2 draw over Belgium, Varun Kumar's rise from the junior ranks to the senior at the Hockey World Cup 2018 is a testament to his faith in himself

Varun Kumar of India celebrates with the man of the match award during the FIH Men's Hockey World Cup match against Belgium.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Talking to Varun Kumar isn’t easy, and for no fault of the youngster.

Ever willing to oblige for a quick chat, the 23-year old is too shy to explain himself. The confident stride and sprint on field is replaced with a wide smile every time he is asked to explain his growth. “I have learnt a lot and am still learning but I don’t know about growth. I am still the same, doing the same things,” he told Sportstar even as the Indian team enjoys a five-day break from competition.

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Man of the match against Belgium for his impressive performances at the back, for his incisive passing and earning the penalty stroke that turned the match around, Varun has grown immensely in the last two years. But it hasn’t been an easy passage from the junior ranks to the senior. Or even through the junior ranks, for that matter.

He impressed on the domestic circuit in 2012, disappeared the next two years due to an ankle injury and then ground his way back. 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.

Sheer bloodymindedness

The injury, though, saw him miss out on the 2013 Junior Hockey World Cup even as the rest of his mates moved ahead. It was only his sheer bloodymindedness that saw him return to the junior national set-up before being part of the Junior World Cup triumph in 2016.

Varun Kumar (L) won the Junior World Cup in 2016. (FILE IMAGE) - AFP   -  AFP



“It was disappointing at that time. But the fact that my teammates were climbing the ranks and playing international games also motivated me to do better and prove myself. The injury took away almost two years of my career but it also helped me learn a lot about myself and the virtue of patience and hard work,” he said.

Those qualities have stood the 23-year old in good stead ever since. Immediately after the JWC high came the low of being left out of the senior core group and uncertainty over his future. Then, out of the blue, came the call-up to join the Indian team for its Europe tour in August 2017 where he made his international debut. Through all this, he has maintained his faith in self.

Strengths

His ability to read the game and stay calm in crunch situations, with the added advantage of being a drag-flicker, has seen him grow as a crucial member of the current side. As one who grew up idolising Rupinderpal Singh, it is ironic that he has now replaced his idol in the side.

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Varun’s biggest strength is his accuracy and power, both with aerial balls and grounded shots. Rock-solid on the left flank, Varun has perhaps conceded least turnovers and his tackling is clean enough to frustrate opposition strikers. Unlike many from Punjab to whom being flashy comes naturally, there is little flamboyance in Varun, who prefers to let the stick to the talking. It’s worked well enough so far.