Having taken up drag flicks to cement her place in the Indian women’s hockey team, the young defender is one of the finest exponents of the art in the world.
Drag flicks are an indispensable part of modern-day hockey. With teams spending hours on perfecting their defensive structure to prevent field goals, penalty corners are often a relatively easy way to score goals.
And what better way to exploit this than to have someone run in, scoop and flick the ball at a pace upwards of 130kph.
Teams at the international level usually have more than one penalty corner specialist in their squad. While the Netherlands have Caia van Maasakker and Yibbi Jansen, Olympic champions Great Britain bank on Grace Balsdon and Laura Unsworth. Australia, meanwhile, rely on Edwina Bone, Jodie Kenny and Karri McMahon.
But for the women’s Indian hockey team, Gurjit Kaur has been a lone warrior in this department for long.
Ever since establishing herself in the Indian women’s hockey team in 2017, Gurjit Kaur has not only been a pillar in India’s defence but an astute goal scorer from short corners.
Be it the 2018 Asian Games - where India won a silver - or the FIH Series Finals in Japan, a competition where Gurjit Kaur ended as the top scorer (11 goals), the Indian drag flicker is an indispensable component of the Indian set-up today.
But until a few years back, this was not the case. In fact, Gurjit Kaur’s initiation into the game was more by chance than choice.
Born in a farmer’s family in Miadi Kalan in Amritsar, hockey was alien to Gurjit Kaur’s household. And for her father Satnam Singh, education was always the priority.
The two sisters - Gurjit and Pradeep - spent their early years in a private school close to their village before moving to a boarding facility in Kairon in the Tarn Taran district, around 70kms from their village.
It was here that they chanced upon hockey. “Hum bas kuch naya try karna chahte the (we just wanted to try something new),” Gurjit Kaur told the Olympic Channel.
“I wasn't aware what this game was all about but it looked fun. No one from my family had played hockey. So, seeing girls playing, we wanted to join them.”
At the Government Girls Senior Secondary School, considered as the nursery for women’s hockey in the country, the two sisters soon found their passion and worked their way up to earn scholarships. It guaranteed them free schooling and boarding.
Gurjit Kaur continued to follow her passion post her school days as well. Joining the Lyallpur Khalsa College for Women in Jalandhar for her graduate studies, the youngster soon made her mark at the national stage. But it wasn’t until 2014 that she was called to the Indian national camp.
A defender with no standout quality, the Punjab player frequented the national camp awaiting her maiden call-up for the next three years. It was here that Gurjit Kaur realised that she needed something special.
“Kuch toh khaas lagta hai India khelne (you need something special to play for the Indian team),” Gurjit said. “I used to try drag flicks before but I wasn’t much aware about it. During my school and college days, it was just about trying to copy what I had seen in various videos.
“But the initial years in the national camp helped me learn the basics, techniques, what’s different, what’s not different… So I decided to make it my x-factor.”
However, with no woman player in India to reach out to, Gurjit Kaur was left to fend for herself. Though she picked up enough watching videos, it wasn’t until the team toured Europe in 2017 that she got some first-hand training.
In the Netherlands, Gurjit Kaur had the opportunity of working with Toon Siepman - a drag flick guru who trained the greats like Pakistan’s Sohail Abbas and Dutchman Mink van der Weerden. The Indian defender believes the weeks spent with Siepman has gone a long way in improving her drag flicking.
“I had some of my best time with him. Though I knew some bits about flicking, he (Toon Siepman) taught me every minute detail, going into the technicalities. Be it my posture or my footwork or the way I twist my waist before leaning in for the flick... All he would do was ask me to change a bit and the result would be completely different.”
Back from her Dutch stint, Gurjit Kaur had her technique tweaked once again, this time by the then head coach Harendra Singh who worked on adding more force to her flicks.
The learning helped at the 2017 Asia Cup, where Gurjit top-scored with eight goals to help India win the title ahead of favourites China. There has been no looking back since.
All through these years, Gurjit Kaur is the only drag flick expert in the Indian women’s hockey team. While it still lacks a quality back-up, a problem that has haunted them on a few occasions, the Indian defender isn’t worried.
“I don't see it as a disadvantage. I think every player adds in her special way to the team. We have a drag flicker in me, while few others can do the slaps (flats hits). That helps in having options from a penalty corner,” Gurjit reasoned.
But with a handful of senior team regulars taking lessons on drag flicks, the objective is that the India women’s hockey team can boast of a handful of top-quality exponents of the art of drag flick.