Bengaluru, March 21: Dilpreet Singh, India hockey forward, doesn't remember when he started playing the game. "I was very young and it was because of my father's insistence," the 18-year-old forward, who is part of the Indian hockey team for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018, said. "He's a hockey coach back in my village, Butala, in Amritsar." Think about it now, if not for his father Balwinder Singh, India would have lost an upcoming incredible talent, who scored goals out of nothing at all during the 2017 U-21 Sultan of Johor Cup in Malaysia.
Dilpreet and Vivek Sagar Prasad, the captain of that side in Johor Bahru which finished third, are two teenagers who have been included in the bus for the CWG in a year that sees the Indian hockey team play four major tournaments - CWG, Asian Games, Champions Trophy and Hockey World Cup.
Young Dilpreet, who is still settling down in the Manpreet Singh's senior squad, knows he has to man up for the challenge. Even as he speaks to the media, his teammates poke him for landing this interview and Dilpreet tries to maintain his composure in front of alert reporters.
"You can get around easily in the junior team," Dilpreet says. "Here (in the senior team camp), you have to be more disciplined and it's way more strict here."
Dilpreet has come a long way from the Khadur Sahib Academy run by his dad, learning about the game at the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Hockey Academy in Amritsar and finally the renowed Surjit Singh Hockey Academy, which has turned out national team players like captain Manpreet, drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh, forward Mandeep Singh and others.
So how exactly did Dilpreet, who has four more years left in the Under-21 side, get promoted up the ranks? For one, his goal-scoring abilities caught the eye of selectors. He scored nine goals in six matches at the Johor Cup, which included a hat-trick, and was the top goal-scorer in the six-team tournament. Moreover, he also created some chances in the midfield and ended up making two of those in India's bronze medal match against Malaysia. He scored a brace against Australia but India were on the losing side 3-4. Yet, his performance in the tournament was enough to earn him a call up to the senior squad for the Four-Nations Invitational Tournament in New Zealand.
#FHN Stats Speak: Vivek and Dilpreet are 2nd and 3rd youngest debutants in Indian Hockey— World Hockey News (@WorldHockeyNews) January 18, 2018
Penalty corner expert Sandeep Singh (born Feb 27, 1986) is the youngest ever Indian player. Sandeep debut was in Kuala Lumpur Azlan… https://t.co/2tU1fv8bX2
"The intensity of training with the senior team is high," Dilpreet says. "I learnt a lot with the junior team but when you play with the seniors, there's a lot you can take from them. For example, I improved upon certain aspects of the game like where to leave the ball, how to control an aerial delivery and where to place a pass. I also practise getting penalty corners for the team with an eye for the goal."
But it all because he got his basics right. Dilpreet may have started under his father's watchful eyes, but it was in the Surjit Singh Hockey Academy in Jalandhar that he honed his skills.
"Surjit sir knows what works in modern hockey," Dilpreet says. "He teaches us those kind of techniques and it has helped a lot of players. I played under the academy's banner in my junior days and learnt my game from him, which helped me get spotted. Those who are talented get spotted. But only if he improves his game, he will remain in the squad.
"That's because in one batch, there are 25-30 students. We start early in the morning and train once in the evening too. From there, I made it to the junior hockey team and there's no looking back now."
India beat Japan 6-0 in a Master vs Apprentice game that warms them up nicely for a big season. But the day belonged to debutants Vivek Prasad & Dilpreet Singh with a brace each. Rupinder & Harman the other scorers. #hockey #NZ4Nations— Jaspreet Sahni (@JaspreetSSahni) January 17, 2018
Cut to January 17, both Dilpreet and Vivek enjoyed dream debuts against Japan in the opening encounter of the Four-Nations event, scoring two apiece as India won 6-0. India went down twice to Belgium in the two-stage finals in Tauranga and Hamilton but Dilpreet impressed again.
Although Dilpreet was rested for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup last month, he was retained for the Commonwealth Games squad. And the 18-year-old couldn't be happier.
"When I made the team in New Zealand, it was an opportunity for me show that I won't mess up," Dilpreet says. "I said to myself I will do my best and give it all. The coaches supported me well. There is always stress when you are in the main team. But I wanted to play with them. I had that aim when I was in the junior side and hence played with all my might. This year is an important one for my career. Personally, I will give my best. I will practice with intensity and follow the coach's instructions."