The Indian hero

M. VEDHAN

When Sardar Jagir Singh, enduring those agonising and traumatic days of the Partition and facing an uncertain future, began his poignant trek with his family from Sialkot in Pakistan to Masanian, a village near Patiala, in 1947, little would he have imagined that his grandson would emerge the hero of India 60 years later. It was in these pastoral settings of Punjab that Prabhjot Singh (in pic) fell in love with hockey.

Prabhjot, born on August 14, 1980, was so fascinated by the stick and ball game that he was reluctant to continue his studies in the AVM School, which did not have a hockey ground. He also did not relish his routine of being a ball picker for the seniors in his village.

Prabhjot then found a guru in Bekhtawar Singh Bhumbli and enrolled at the Guru Nanak Dev Academy. He soon made a name for himself as a member of the district and state under-14 teams, and in 1991 Prabhjot piloted Punjab to victory in the National School Games in Jammu.

At the Khalsa Senior Secondary School in Dhadial, Patiala, Prabhjot blossomed into a full-fledged star and was a member of the Punjab team that won a silver medal at the National School Games in 1995-96. He continued to make waves, as he emerged the highest scorer — with 21 goals for PEPSU — in the Junior Nationals in Bangalore in 1997. As a protege of coach Inderjit Singh Gill, Prabhjot honed his skills before moving to the Air India Academy under A. K. Bansal. A stint in the Jamia Milia Islamia prepared him for tougher competitions and he earned a place in the Combined Universities team for the tour of Australia.

Prabhjot later was selected for the national team for the four-nation tournament in Barcelona in 1999. This marked the beginning of an illustrious chapter in the career of the gangling, soft-spoken player who mesmerised the hockey fans with his brilliant stick-work.

His trials and tribulations since then have been many. He was shown the door after the 2005 Champions Trophy in Chennai and had to miss the Doha Asian Games and the World Cup in 2006. Prabhjot, however, decided to ply his wares in the United States where he played in league competitions.

Coach C. R. Kumar had a hand in shaping Prabhjot before the player came under the wings of Rajinder Singh (Jr) during the Junior World Cup in Hobart in 2001. The tournament brought to the fore superbly talented players such as Gagan Ajit Singh, Deepak Thakur and Prabhodh Tirkey, the captain of the current national team.

Small wonder then that many from the junior team graduated to the senior ranks, and Prabhjot Singh, gaining the attention of Cedric D’Souza, became a member of the Indian team that won the Prime Minister’s Gold Cup in Dhaka in 2001.

Thereafter, Prabhjot’s career graph showed an upward curve. He is rated by many as the best outside-right since Zafar Iqbal. India cap in the Asian Games (2002), World Cup (2002), Olympics (2004), Champions Trophy (2002, 2003, 2005) and Asia Cup (2003, 2007) lends Prabhjot the credentials that match with the best in the sport. A total of 93 appearances and a tally of 70 goals make him a star worthy of notice and adulation.

A rewarding job with IndianOil and the encouragement offered by his employers have gone a long way in enhancing the stature and class of this mercurial striker, who turned out for Sher-E-Punjab and Chandigarh Dynamos in the Premier Hockey League.

Prabhjot is an excellent sprinter with the ball, in the mould of Dhanraj Pillay and Baljit Singh Dhillon, and is capable of outpacing any defender on the wing. This coupled with his delectable ball control and deadly finish, especially on the backhand, has catapulted him to the status of a national icon.

No Indian player today thrills the senses of a hockey lover more than Prabhjot Singh in full flow. Each one of his 15 goals in the Asia Cup is a testimony to this.

S. Thyagarajan