This piece was published in Sportskeeda
India’s disastrous London Olympics campaign saw the selectors wield the axe on quite a few senior players for the 34th FIH Champions Trophy in Melbourne. Among the senior lot, ace drag-flicker Sandeep Singh’s exclusion raised the banner of surprise in many quarters.
But with the Indian team faring well in the Champions Trophy as well as in the 2nd Asian Champions Trophy, the comeback plans of Sandeep would even get tougher.
The seasoned fullback knows well enough and is slogging it out in a bid to stage a comeback to the Indian team. “I’m working hard on my training – not just trying to fine-tune my drag-flicks but also focusing on my tackling and man-to-man marking,” Sandeep said in an exclusive interview ahead of Mumbai Magicians’ training camp which begins in Mumbai on January 9.
Indian team’s chief coach Michael Nobbs has been pretty vocal in saying that Sandeep has to reinvent himself to facilitate his return to the national team. The 26-year-old said he is striving hard to become a better defender. “I’m not just looking to score goals from my drag-flicks; I’m doing whatever I can to improve my defending skills. If I consistently convert my penalty corners, tackling and my man-to-man marking, it will benefit the team hugely,” he puts things in perspective.
And the inaugural Hockey India League would be the passport to a national call-up for the Shahabad born player. “I just want to perform well for Mumbai Magicians and help them win the crown. I’m determined to make a mark in the league with both short corner goals and defending skills. Hopefully, my performance in the HIL will help me to stage a comeback to the national side for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tournament to be held in Malaysia in March,” he said with a tinge of resoluteness.
Sandeep, who has scored 138 international goals so far, feels that HIL will help to strengthen the base of hockey in India. “HIL is a great thing for Indian hockey. We not only have some of the world’s best players but also some of the top coaches here. It will be a massive learning experience for all the Indian players and the same applies to me as well,” he exuded hope.
Mumbai Magicians is coached by legendary Australian coach Ric Charlesworth. Sandeep is keen to seek tips from him in a bid to further improve his defending skills. “Ric was with the Indian team at the 2008 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia. In the past, I have benefited immensely from his pep talk. I’m eagerly waiting to seek more inputs about bettering my defending skills,” he said candidly.
Mumbai Magicians boast of a robust goalkeeping department, which has the likes of Indian goalies – PR Sreejesh and PT Rao besides Pakistan’s Imran Butt. “We do have a decent line-up of goalkeepers. Hope they live up to their billing,” he said optimistically.
The Magicians have three foreigners in defence – the Australian duo of Joel Carroll and Matthew Swann and Spain’s Sergi Enrique. “All these guys bring a lot of experience to the side. We just got to deliver on the turf,” Sandeep said realistically.
The name of Joel Carroll tempts one to quiz Sandeep about being bought by the Mumbai outfit for his reserve price of $27,800, which got enhanced only because Caroll was bought for $56,000 and as a marquee player, the Indian will be getting 15% more than what the Australian was sold for. Sandeep, however, said he was not unduly concerned at being bought by Mumbai for his base price. “To be honest, I’m not at all disappointed with the fact that I was bought at my base price. I’m happy with what I have in my life and don’t think money is everything in life,” he clears the air.
So, one asked jocularly if he owes a party to Carroll for doing him a favour, Sandeep flashed a broad smile and ducked the topic.
The Mumbai Magicians’ marquee player, who burst on the national scene emerging as the top goal scorer for India at the 2004 Junior Asia Cup in Karachi, has high expectations from the three Pakistani midfielders. “All the three Pakistan players – Mahmood Rashid, Fareed Ahmed and Mohammad Tousiq lend strength to our side. I’m really looking forward to playing alongside them.”
But there is a feeling that Mumbai Magicians’ forward line lacks experience. But Sandeep doesn’t see any cause for concern. Australia’s Glenn Turner is the only experienced campaigner along with talented Malaysian Faisal Saari. “Don’t count out our Indian players. We have players like Chinglensana Singh and Sarvanjit Singh among others; they are all good and will lend value to our side,” the defender concluded, fully backing the desi players.