Since making his debut for the Indian hockey team, the young striker has struggled to hold on to his place in the team’ for an entire season. He hopes the Olympic year will be different.
Talk about Gurjant Singh and one of the first thoughts that pop up in an Indian hockey fan’s mind is his ability to score quick goals.
It happened in the final of the 2016 FIH Junior World Cup, a place where the Indian hockey fraternity first took notice of him.
And then again, in the opening game of the FIH Pro League, where Gurjant Singh barely took 13 seconds to slot in the opener against the Netherlands.
On both the occasions, it was his ability to covert one-touch shots at goal with accuracy that caught the Indian hockey aficionado by surprise.
But unlike his goals - usually scored with the maximum of ease - Gurjant Singh’s rise to the Indian hockey team has been anything but so.
Ever since turning for the senior team four years ago, the 25-year-old has barely managed to play 44 matches and has often found himself on the wrong side largely due to injuries and poor form.
While the 2018 season saw the Amritsar-born Gurjant Singh being dropped from the Indian hockey team for the Asian Games and the FIH World Cup following a difficult spell, a year later it was a nasal fracture during a practice game that ruled him out of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.
“Paaji, start achhi reheti hai, par maintain nahi ho pati (Brother, I start well, but I can’t maintain it for long),” said Gurjant Singh in a very self-deprecating way in an exclusive chat with the Olympic Channel describing his senior career so far.
“It’s been up and down. Last season itself, I missed around 3-4 months to the injury (nasal fracture). It’s been a template. Ever since making my debut with the senior team, I have had this going for me. First, it was the form (ahead of the 2018 Asian Games) and then when I made a comeback (ahead of the 2019 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup), injury cut short my stay.”
While such a phase can too often than not push an athlete into a zone of self-doubt and contemplate his career decisions, Gurjant Singh said it’s been anything but so.
“I think I have grown to be mentally strong every time I am out of the team. It’s like I push myself harder every time I was dropped or was injured. I want to be in the team and I don’t mind going the distance for that.” he explained.
And for the young striker, the way back into the team is a two-step process. “I think, once you are out, first, you need to convince yourself that you are still good to be in the Indian hockey team and then you need to go on and better the person who’s taken your place in the side. It's a double effort.
“For me, I think, it was all about being with the crore probables. Being at the national camp has really helped in getting me back in shape and also working on my game. When you are around with the guys who want you to be back in the team and will go the extra mile in helping you do so, there’s never a lack of motivation,” he said.
In his happy place with the Indian hockey team and goals to show for the matches he’s played so far this season, Gurjant Singh seems set to break out of the mould that’s often stopped him in his tracks in the past. But the only way he can ensure he goes the distance this time is by staying injury-free and by not letting the level of his hockey drop.
And thankfully for the Indian hockey team, the Punjab player knows what’s expected of him.