HIL shows India’s got talent
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When Mandeep Singh finished his breathtaking solo run down the right with a cheeky scoop over the UP Wizards goalkeeper, football fans in attendance may have recalled Lionel Messi's deft dink over Arsenal's Wojciech Szczesny in the 2011 Champions League quarterfinal. To Jugraj Singh, as unrestrained in his new role behind the microphone as he was with his fabled drag-flick, it was Dhyan Chand-esque.
At this stage, both comparisons are slightly excessive, but there's no denying that a new star has emerged in Indian hockey, courtesy the Hockey India League. The 17-year-old Mandeep was a largely unknown commodity. He couldn't make the Punjab senior team last year due to injury, but was included in the junior national team for the Sultan of Johor Cup in Malaysia, where he first came to notice. "Baljit Singh Saini (India's junior team coach) had told me before I came to India to watch out for Mandeep," says Gregg Clarke, his coach at Ranchi Rhinos. "So I was expecting some good work from him. But he has surpassed my expectations."
His 10 goals in 13 HIL games is second only to Sandeep Singh's 11, but unlike the Mumbai drag-flicker's strikes, they are all field goals. His displays in the HIL also forced selectors to take notice and name him in the national team. It underlined the fact that, on a level playing field, in a professionally run set-up such as HIL, Indian players were good as any.
Further proof of this is Sardar Singh's performance. It's widely known that he's one of the finest in world hockey, but in the HIL, India got to see Sardar marshalling Delhi's midfield, day in and day out, with efficiency and work rate comparable to Barcelona's Xavi or Juventus's Pirlo. Sardar shared an almost telepathic understanding with his teammates, with one eye on the ball at his stick and the other on the space he could create. Other Indians also stood out, including striker Gurvinder Singh Chandi, drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh and the indefatigable Kothajit Singh.
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