Bhopal: Bharat Chetri is the comeback man of Indian hockey. The goalkeeper has acquired a knack of fighting his way back into the national team every time he is dropped.
The talented Chetri has a fascinating career graph. For someone who began his career in 2000 the rise was quick and once in the senior ranks, he has also realized how difficult it is to reach the top and stay there.
It has been a game of musical chairs for goalkeeper`s position in the Indian team. But the Darjeeling boy has the intrinsic faith in his ability and the will to fight back when chips are down. Every national coach has picked and discarded him after a year or so. He was out of the team in 2004, 2007 and 2009, but never lost faith.
"Whenever I had been dropped, I assumed I needed to work on my game. It is good to have healthy competition for berths in the team. If I am not selected, it means I am not good enough and I am happy that the best player is representing the country," Chetri told IANS.
"Every time I was rejected, I went back to train with renewed determination and waited for my opportunity. That way I have become mentally tougher."
For Chetri former India goalkeeper Ashish Ballal is the model. "I have watched him in my younger days and I like his daredevil attitude. He was a tough goalkeeper and stood there without flinching."
Chetri`s latest comeback was when he was recalled for the Commonwealth Games and he gave his most memorable performance against England in the semi-final. It was a heart stopping moment in front of a packed Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium when Chetri stood like a rock in the penalty shootout. India recorded their best performance ever in the Games.
"It was the best moment of my career. We never made it to the final of the Commonwealth Games and performing in front of home crowd was heartening."
Now Chetri has his eye on the Olympic qualification in February and he feels that the Indian team stands a good chance. The players have drawn a lot of flak after the Azlan Shah performance, but Chetri would not brood on it.
"We have had some bad moments and that pushed us down. Maybe, we lacked a bit in the physical conditioning because there was a three-month gap after the Asian Games," he said.
Chetri feels drafting too many new players at this point will not help the team much because they will take time to adjust.
He also praised coach Harendra Singh, who is under the scanner after the Azlan Shah debacle. "We learnt a lot from Jose Brasa and Harendra is following the same line. Harendra is a good tactician and reader of the game."
Chetri feels they need to follow a similar style of play to develop hockey in the country. "If you see Australia and other top teams, a youngster and a 30-year-old have similar style. In India you will find various styles being employed in different states or academies. And when the youngsters come into the national side the coach has to work on them to make them understand their roles."
A mischievous kid, Chetri took to hockey when his family sent him to Patna where a relative of theirs is a coach. "He put me through systematic training and I put all my energies in the game. I was good in diving and that`s how I took to goalkeeping," says the 29-year-old who then learnt the ropes at Danapur Army School and Sports Authority of India`s Centre of Excellence, Bangalore.
After that it was a question of reaching the top and then the struggle to stay there.