This piece was published in Sportskeeda
Hockey fans across the country can look forward to a dose of riveting action as the inaugural Hockey India League (HIL) commences on January 14. And one man who would be looking to make a big impression in the much-hyped league and stage a comeback to the national team is Indian centre-forward Shivendra Singh.
The 29-year-old experienced striker, who was axed from the Indian team after the country’s hugely disappointing London Olympics campaign, has been putting in the hard yards and is determined to put up a decent showing in the HIL after a string of solid performances in the domestic tournaments. “I’ve been training hard and feeling good about my form. I scored consistently in the Lal Bahadur Shastri, Nehru Hockey and Obaidullah Khan Gold Cup hockey tournaments. I hope to maintain the same form in HIL,” the soft-spoken forward who will be turning out for Jaypee Punjab Warriors in the HIL, said in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of their team’s opening day camp in Jalandhar.
The Gwalior lad is fully aware that an impressive stint in the HIL would significantly enhance his national recall chances for the 2013 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament to be held at Ipoh, Malaysia in March. “The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup will be India’s next international assignment after the Asian Champions Trophy. It’s only natural that players who perform in the HIL would stand a bright chance of making it to the national team,” he said matter-of-factly.
Is there any pressure on him to deliver considering the fact that the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup is India’s next international campaign after the HIL? He brushed aside any such thoughts. “I don’t think that there is any pressure on me to perform just because an international tourney is held after the HIL. I’m just going to play my natural game; if I put pressure on myself it will only affect my game. It is always better to stay positive.”
A lot of water has flown under the bridge since India’s disastrous London Olympics campaign. Is there anything he can pinpoint as to what could have led to our wooden spoon finish?
“Look, the team was fully fit and there was no shortage of motivation. It’s difficult to pinpoint one single factor but I just feel maybe our limited exposure to the blue turf proved to be our undoing. We played on the blue turf in our Olympic preparatory tours to France and Spain; we played about four games on the blue turf. One can’t blame anyone for our limited exposure to the blue turf as we qualified only five months preceding the Olympics,” he pondered.
But the Indian team showed resurgence of some sorts with a fourth place finish in the 34th FIH Champions Trophy and a runners-up finish in the Asian Champions Trophy. “Our boys put up a superb show. Our defence was outstanding. Both Vokkaliga Raghunath and Rupinder Pal Singh showed a lot of responsibility in the absence of seniors like Sandeep Singh and Ignace Tirkey. Raghunath, in particular, seems to be handling his vice captain responsibilities very well. Even goalkeeper PT Rao dished out a stellar performance,” Shivendra was all praise for the Indian defence.
Talking of the Hockey India League, Jaypee Punjab Warriors is being talked about as the team to be beat with a bevy of star players in their ranks. Shivendra feels that on-field performance counts than just looking formidable on paper. “It’s nice to have a good side but how we perform on the turf will matter the most. Having a good side is nice but you got to combine well as a side,” he put things in perspective.
Shivendra, who played 180 internationals and scored 81 goals, is excited about playing alongside the likes of SV Sunil and Australian legend Jamie Dwyer. “Sunil is a good friend of mine while I know Dwyer quite well also. Hopefully, we would form a lethal combination,” he exuded an upbeat tone.
One thing that makes Shivendra prominent among others is his headband he wears in every match. “I started wearing it for my wife Nishi, she likes me wearing the headband,” he says coyly.
One can be rest assured that there will never be shortage of hockey discussion at home since his wife is a former international women’s hockey player. What’s more, Nishi was also a forward like Shivendra. “She played for India during the 1999-2004 period. Both of us worked for the Railways before I moved to Air India,” said the Air India Assistant Manager.
Shivendra’s favourite striker is Dhanraj Pillay, who is the technical director of the Uttar Pradesh Wizards, while goalkeeper PR Sreejesh has been the toughest nut for him to crack. “I like Dhanraj bhai for his burst of speed. He can rattle any defence with his speed. I found PR Sreejesh the most difficult to beat. Even in practice, I find it difficult to breach his defence,” said Shivendra who is also a close pal of Sreejesh. “Yeah, Sreejesh is one of my closest friends in the Indian team. It’s not because of my close friendship I’m saying he is the most difficult goalkeeper to score off, he is genuinely a tough cookie,” the Indian centre-forward signed off.