International hockey was paused for more than six months, before the FIH decided to get back on the turf with resumption of the Pro League in October this year. But in terms of junior hockey the world over, plans are still on hold or in the works, as the virus continues to behave mysteriously, with mixed reports on the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccine that is yet to arrive in India.
India’s junior men and women teams have just started feeling the ground beneath their feet at respective camps in the SAI Centre in Bengaluru, much after their senior counterparts did. But for both juniors and seniors, the calendar so far is more or less in the air due to the ever-changing pandemic situation.
To address that uncontrollable situation, which may hit the supply chain of senior teams, Harendra believes there is a need to look at players who have proved themselves on the international stage in the recent past but have been overlooked lately.
Harendra, who is recovering after contracting the coronavirus infection last month, said one “can’t expect” players like Birendra Lakra and Rupinder Pal Singh to play the next Asian Games and World Cup, and thus there is a need to build a team, keeping in mind the fact that the juniors may not get enough opportunities to prove their mettle.
(Harjeet Singh leading India out during a match of the 2016 Junior Men’s World Cup – Twitter Photo)
“The current junior (men’s) team is short on experience and it will take time before they can move to the senior level. So who will fill the vacuum of players like Lakra and Rupinder? It can be only those who have some experience,” said Harendra talking to Timesofindia.com.
“According to me, Harjeet should be called back to the camp, and also Devindar Walmiki. They are good assets. You won’t expect Birender Lakra and Rupinder Pal to be there for the 2022 Asian Games and the 2023 World Cup,” he further said.
Harjeet, who led India to Junior World Cup triumph in 2016, was considered the heir-apparent to star playmaker Sardar Singh who retired before the 2018 World Cup.
Harjeet made his senior India debut before the 2016 Junior World Cup. Devindar, too, has earned senior caps.
(Devindar Walmiki during a match for HGC club in Netherlands – Twitter Photo)
Lack of focus, largely perhaps due to the biopic made on him soon after the Junior World Cup win, led to Harjeet’s ouster from the core group of probables, while Devindar too went off the selectors’ radar.
Both Harjeet and Devindar are working hard to make a comeback, with club hockey stints in Netherlands and the European Hockey League. But while Devindar had his contract with HGC extended for another season, Harjeet didn’t get that opportunity.
“I am giving it my best shot; the aim is to make a comeback (to the Indian team). So continuing to do hard work and trying for another overseas stint in club hockey,” Harjeet told Timesofindia.com.
Harendra said both players should be in the national camp, leaving the decision of their inclusion in the team to coach Graham Reid.
“Harjeet and Devindar deserve to be in the camp. Whether they make it to the final squad or not, the coach will decide that. I don’t think the coaches have got a chance to have a good look at them, and Covid hasn’t yet allowed the National Championships to be held,” the former India coach concluded.