HIL: Jr WC stars ready to raise the bar

India beat Belgium in the final to win their second Hockey Junior World Cup after 15 years. (Hockey India)

MUMBAI: India won the Junior Hockey World Cup last month after a decade-anda-half, and aficionados will be training their eyes on the heroes of the tournament when the fifth edition of the Hockey India League (HIL) gets underway in the city on Saturday.Five players from the 18-member junior India squad, including defender Harmanpreet Singh, striker Gurjant Singh, midfielders Manpreet and Nilakanta Sharma, and goalkeeper Krishan Pathak will be donning Dabang Mumbai colours during the course of the next 35 days. All five of them were part of the Mumbai squad in 2016 as well, but expectations, surely , will be greater this time around.

And quite expectedly , they are willing to take the challenge head-on. “Winning the World Cup was a huge achievement for all of us. Now, the focus has shifted to HIL and we are really eager to do well,” Gurjant, told TOI on Wednesday . The 21-year-old struck two spectacular goals in the semis and finals of the World Cup, and left fans craving for more of his dazzling reverse-hit skills.

Does he still think about those goals now? “It was not the first time I was scoring goals through the reverse hit. I had scored similar goals in the past, including in the HIL last year. I have practised the reverse hit a lot. For many spectators it was something new, but there was nothing new in it for me,” he said nonchalantly .

Goalie Pathak, meanwhile, believes things have changed considerably for the youngsters after their success in Lucknow. “The biggest impact of winning the World Cup is that people have begun respecting hockey a lot more and recognising us. There were many people earlier who were not following the game, but now they do. They have begun liking the sport. And I can feel this trend whenever we are travelling for tournaments in the country ,” said the 19-year-old.

Ace custodian David Harte from Ireland is the first choice goalkeeper for the Mumbai outfit and Pathak believes he has learnt a lot from him in the past couple of years. “Harte was named the FIH goalkeeper of the year, so you under stand his calibre. He has taught me a lot.Things like practice drills, how to face different match situations etc. He points out mistakes and always emphasises on positive thinking,” explained Pathak, who has recently joined Punjab National Bank.

Another thing about the youngsters that will be closely tracked over the coming months is the pace at which they are able to make the transition to the next level. And both players admitted it was going to be tough. “We have to work very hard to make the transition to the senior team. It will involve a lot of struggle. But, the plus point is that our confidence is high after winning the World Cup. HIL will also help, as we will be playing against the best players in the world,” said Gurjant.



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