He is keen to build on recent success

INDIA'S HERO, HARMANPREET SINGH (LEFT) with his skipper Harjeet Singh on arrival in New Delhi after winning the Sultan of Johor Cup in Malaysia.-PTI INDIA'S HERO, HARMANPREET SINGH (LEFT) with his skipper Harjeet Singh on arrival in New Delhi after winning the Sultan of Johor Cup in Malaysia.

“Everyone loves to score goals. It was in Jalandhar that I first tried my hand at drag-flicking. My coaches felt I was good, so they encouraged me to continue practising. Seeing seniors like Rupinder Pal Singh inspired and motivated me,” says India’s hero in the Sultan of Johor Cup, Harmanpreet Singh. By Uthra Ganesan.

Harmanpreet Singh is yet to come to terms with his newfound fame. The top scorer in the Sultan of Johor Cup, which India won in Malaysia recently, hesitates to speak much without being prodded. He prefers to let his stick do the talking on the field.

Until six months ago, Harmanpreet was just one of the hundreds of Indian hockey players hoping to catch the attention of the selectors. Having taken up the game early, the 18-year-old drag-flicker from Amritsar had performed consistently for Punjab at the junior and sub-junior level tournaments, but he was yet to be identified as a special talent.

An impressive performance at the Junior National Championships for Punjab, the eventual champion, in April this year was the breakthrough that Harmanpreet wanted. He was the second-highest scorer in the competition with six goals. Even more impressive was the fact that, despite being a defender with an aggressive team like Punjab, he was not penalised even once in the tournament. He got into the list of 60 junior probables before making it to the shortlist of 33 for the 2016 Junior World Cup.

“I have always been told that a calm mind wins more matches than fiery temper. Aggression on field must ensure victory for the team, not a penalty,” says Harmanpreet, displaying a maturity well beyond his age.

In Johor Bahru, India was up against teams such as Australia, Great Britain and New Zealand, and Harmanpreet scored in almost every match. His hat-trick against a powerhouse side like Australia, in the semifinals, was impressive. However, the icing on the cake was his twin strikes against Great Britain in the final, which helped India to not only retain the title but also avenge its defeat in the league stage.

Scoring the winner with 45 seconds left in the game, according to Harmanpreet, was also an outcome of the ‘keep calm’ attitude the team management constantly instilled in the players. With the win, India also became the only country to successfully defend its title in the competition.

Harmanpreet says that it were the Nationals that helped him graduate to the national camp.

“I knew then also that a decent performance would help me join the national probables. But that was not my main target. I wanted to give my best for my team and the fact that Punjab won the title only helped us gain more prominence,” says Harmanpreet, who is preparing for the upcoming Surjit Memorial hockey tournament, organised by his erstwhile academy.

Having first picked up a hockey stick in Standard V, Harmanpreet quickly realised he had to get expert coaching and shifted to the Surjit Hockey Academy in Jalandhar for a year. He then moved to Ludhiana for three years before returning to the Surjit Academy.

Currently on stipend with Bharat Petroleum, Harmanpreet says being a drag-flicker was a decision he made early in his hockey journey. “Everyone loves to score goals. It was in Jalandhar that I first tried my hand at drag-flicking. My coaches felt I was good, so they encouraged me to continue practising. Seeing seniors like Rupinder Pal Singh inspired and motivated me.

“As a defender and drag-flicker, I can both score goals and defend them, it’s best of both worlds,” he says.

The Jalandhar University graduate is now keen on building on his recent success. “There is a lot more to learn and I am looking forward to improving my game from here on.

“The next camp for the junior national side will be held from November 15, though we are not sure of the venue yet. My target is the Junior World Cup and, hopefully, we would be able to do well at home in two years time,” Harmanpreet says before signing off.