The World No. 1 Netherlands Men's Hockey Team arrived at the Biju Patnaik International Airport here on Sunday ahead of their FIH Hockey Pro League matches in India.
New Zealand hockey captain Simon Child, who led the Delhi Waveriders to a podium win in the last season of the Hockey India League (HIL), has handed the captaincy to Indian drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh for the HIL 2017, starting January 21.
In an exclusive interview to thestatesman.com, during his training session on Wednesday, the 28-year-old striker spoke his heart out on Rupinder’s new role and his impressive form recently at Rio Olympics, where New Zealand finished seventh in the final rankings.
When asked if he’s ready to lead the team in the fresh season, Simon said, “I’ll be leading the team but I won’t be in the captaincy role this time. I’ll be supporting Bob (Rupinder), who’ll be the captain this year.”
“It’s a great thing for the team. He’ll surely do a great job and I’ll be there as one of the senior players to help him on and off the field. It’s a new challenge for Bob but I am confident he’ll make us proud,” added the happy camper.
Rupinder, 26, the most promising hockey talent in India, is currently enjoying his sporting career. The year 2016 saw the best of his skills as he was marked as the top bet in almost every tournament he played. He emerged as India’s top goal scorer in the 2016 Rio Olympics, where India finished eighth.
“He leads by example. He’s a great player on the field. He’s skillful and obviously a weapon in front. He has developed his game in last two-three seasons of the league and come up as one of the best all-round defenders and drag-flickers in the world,” Child heaped praise on the Indian hockey wizard.
Last season, Rupinder scored 12 goals, the highest by an Indian. Watching him in great form, fans expect another promising stint by the penalty corner specialist in this edition.
Child believes this is the right time for the dashing defender to come up as the captain.
“He has been an integral part of the Delhi Waveriders family since the start, like me. It’s really great for him to take captaincy role this year and I’ll be here supporting him, in a different leadership role.”
Delhi Waveriders will start their campaign on January 22, facing last season’s runner-ups Kalinga Lancers. Talking about the preparations, Child said “We are training hard and following a tough training schedule. We are looking forward to playing our first game against Kalinga Lancers and to start the campaign on a positive note.”
The 6 feet 10 inches tall striker agreed to the point that Delhi have their core strength in defence, though the forward always seek to score at the right time.
“We always try to score goals but when the leagues and championships follow a defensive structure then the defence becomes the foremost priority. If we are unable to score goals, we try to get penalty corners and having great PC specialists like Rupinder, we always gain on that part.”
Delhi Waveriders feature the recent Junior Hockey World Cup winning captain Harjeet Singh, along with other players from the squad like Santa Singh, Parvinder Singh and Mandeep Singh, who shone to the maximum in India recent success.
Child said it is “enjoyable” for him to play alongside young achievers.
“They have so much of enthusiasm and energy that makes them training-efficient. I expect a great game from them after watching their pretty incredible victory at the Junior World Cup. They’re going to be the top bets in the league. Giving them as much opportunity as we can and watching them play furious hockey is a great sight for me,” he said.
The squad of Delhi Waveriders appears strong on paper, with having marquee players like Child, Rupinder, Harjeet and Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch. All these have come up with their best in recent times.
Child also played astonishing hockey in the recent Rio Olympics, where he scored in four matches out of six in all. “We had a couple of really good games. Although there were factors that reasoned in our exit in the knockout stage, we finished satisfactory at Olympics,” he said.
“I’ll try to bring that form here in HIL. I’ll try to play my best for Delhi and for our fans here. It’s a thrilling competition and I’ll try to bring in the attacking style of play. We’ll hope to get a good start here,” he added.
The New Zealander said he would love to have such leagues there in his nation as well. “We are unfortunate that we don’t have such fan base there for the sport of field hockey. It’s not an easy thing to achieve but one day we may. Till that time, we’ll continue to come here in India to enjoy the game to the fullest.”
The Blacksticks skipper hates the cold weather. Getting off to the training session on a cold windy evening in Delhi, the striker signed off, saying, “It’s pretty mild here. Coming from New Zealand in summers to here, it’s always odd for me. It’s not cold here, but it’s not hot either. I miss the blue sky of summers.”