Sandeep Singh, man of the moment!

Nishad Vellur

New Delhi: The country’s best drag flicker, Sandeep Singh, has no qualms, no pressure and these very qualities get narrated on the field. His flicks bring goals and glory and fans go berserk in the half-occupied stadium when he punches the air in his trademark style after every deserving goal.

For this 25-year-old athlete, his quota of goals is climbing up rather swiftly. Just before the tournament he had stated that 12 goals would be his personal target, however, it looks like he will bypass the mark soon. The highest scorer in the ongoing FIH Olympic Hockey qualifiers at the Dhyan Chand Stadium, with nine goals in four matches, Sandeep Singh has been the match-winner for India. So far, he has scored in all the games bagging a hat-trick as well.

On Wednesday, the Indian team held the fort against Canada, considered to be a tough opponent in the tournament. Yet again Sandeep Singh translated his superb skills to flick the ball in and came to India’s rescue by converting two penalty corners into goals. “It was definitely a tough match. We got a few scoring opportunities, we missed few and scored others. Today’s win was a combined effort. Credit should go to both defence and forward,” said a humble Sandeep Singh.

He might get jittery at times and might also seem to lose control of his defensive skills (while concentrating on his flicking ability), however, anyone who watches his game closely cannot repudiate that he strikes back when the need arises. Or maybe the charm lies in the fact that this master flicker can dodge off pressure like water off a duck’s back. Ask him about pressure, and his instantaneous response is in the negative. “There is no pressure. I strive to perform as best as I can,” said Sandeep.

A country where fans kowtow to cricket, the national game of India (thankfully!!!) has quite a number of fans. This was evident on match days and especially when Sandeep executed his superior flicking skills, the stadium echoed his name. The former Indian captain could not hide his glee when asked about the chants. “It feels good hearing it and, in fact, I am happy that we are getting such immense support from fans,” he said.

Sandeep has over the years toned his defensive skills in pursuit of becoming the best in the business. Coach Michael Nobbs agrees, “He has improved immensely in the past few years. His footwork and speed have become much better and hence he is far more mobile. That gives us an extra attacking option. A defender tackling the ball is where the attack starts, and he has taken more responsibilities, especially in initiating the attack.”

As India is making a strong headway to seal the London berth with their improved performances, much lies on the penalty corner expert, who has, so far, played a significant role in bringing India nearer to fulfilling their Olympic mission.

Canada coach Robin D`Abreo sums it up aptly, "Penalty corners play a big part in modern hockey. And India has got a great dragflicker in Sandeep. He will be a threat for all the teams." And so he has been.

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