Harmanpreet Singh: Every inch a leader on the hockey pitch

The Indian captain, who made it a walk in the park against Pakistan in Asian Champions Trophy, has already built an awesome career at 27 years

Harmanpreet Singh (Photo: Hockey India)
Harmanpreet Singh (Photo: Hockey India)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

If the highly billed India-Pakistan league match of the Asian Champions Trophy hockey in Chennai turned into a bit of a one-way traffic on Tuesday, August 8, a lot of credit for that goes to the home team skipper Harmanpreet Singh. Two goals from his drag flicks, not to speak of an all-round performance, eventually made it a walk in the park for the Men in Blue who made the semi-finals with a 4-0 romp.

At only 27, Harmanpreet — who was made captain since the Men’s World Cup in Odisha earlier this year — is already an example of been there, done that. A key member of the Indian team which ended their 41-year medal drought in the Tokyo Olympics 2021, Harmanpreet already has a century of goals behind him from more than 150 matches – as his best is yet to be.

Come September, the FIH Player of the Year in 2022 will once again lead the charge in Asian Games in Hangzhou, China as India hope to continue to build on the change of fortunes they built with the men’s bronze and an extremely credible fourth finish for women in the Summer Games. A silver in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last year was another cap in the feather of the men.

An upbeat India went in with a fair bit of expectations at the World Cup, where they were off to a strong start but crashed out in a penalty shootout in the crossover match against New Zealand. Acknowledged as arguably the best drag flicker in the world, Harmanpreet was panned for his poor conversion rate in the tournament and became the fall guy when he messed up with the penalty stroke.

“Of course, everyone is talking about the penalty corner conversion. I am trying but it is not coming off. It’s been a while since taking captaincy,’’ a devastated captain said later.

It’s not for nothing that the tall pillar of defence is widely admired for his tremendous work-rate, coupled with his scoring capabilities. In Tokyo, he was the highest scorer for his team with six goals while he fired nine in Birmingham to become the tournament’s second highest scorer.

The choc-a-bloc Colonel Radhakrishnan Stadium, which had India’s spin ace Ravi Ashwin among a rooting crowd against Pakistan, has already seen him emerge as the leading scorer with the semi-final and a possible final still to go.

Born in a farming family in Jandiala Guru township, a village in Punjab’s Amritsar, Harmanpreet resorted to a particular routine to hone his skills as a drag flicker. He often drove the heavy tractor of his father in the field but used to struggle with the rusty gear stick. However, the constant tussle with the gear strengthened Harmanpreet’s arms, building a strong foundation for his powerful drag flicks.

To further polish his talent, the youngster joined Surjeet Academy, Jalandhar in 2011, where he picked up the ropes from seniors Gaganpreet Singh and Sukhjeet Singh, who were also penalty corner specialists.

It was at the junior camps that the coaches saw the potential of Harmanpreet and fast-tracked him to the Indian junior team. The coaches also replaced the normal hockey ball with heavier balls for him, helping Harmanpreet build even more power. “In two years' time, Harmanpreet may become the best drag-flicker in the world,’’ Harendra Singh, the former coach of the Indian junior hockey team had said earlier. Needless to say, the man didn’t disappoint them.

Harmanpreet, who wears the No.13 shirt, has shown that it can also be a lucky number for Indian hockey!

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