Nilakanta Sharma banking on big-match experience to see him through

The young midfielder wants to use his learnings from the World Cup and the Olympic qualifiers as he prepares for the biggest test at the Olympics.

By Naveen Peter ·

Indian hockey team midfielder Nilakanta Sharma knows a thing or two about playing at the biggest stage.

A journey that started with a title-winning run at the 2016 Junior Hockey World Cup has seen the 25-year-old play some high-pressure matches including the ones at the 2018 FIH World Cup and the Olympic qualifiers last year.

And it’s this experience that he plans to bank upon as he continues his preparations for the Tokyo Olympics. 

“It's great to have so much experience (of playing high-pressure games) under my belt, which will be a big bonus for a tournament like the Olympics next year,” the Manipur-born told Hockey India in a recent interview.

“Over the years, I have learned to stay calm and composed in pressure situations and have a great understanding of my role in the side.”

Helping hand in Manpreet Singh 

Though it’s been just three years since the youngster made his senior team debut, it's the past few seasons that has seen Nilakanata Sharma slowly evolving into an integral member of the Indian team.

Indian midfielder Nilakanta Sharma credits skipper Manpreet Singh for helping him grow with the team over the past few years. Photo: Hockey India

Be it his ability to create space in a tight situation or be it the calmness with which he engages in his defensive duties, the Manipuri has shown his maturity on the field every time he’s called upon. 

And with a reliable figure in captain Manpreet Singh in the middle of the park, Nilakanta Sharma said he has very little to worry about when he’s on the pitch.

“The way Manpreet and I communicate on the field is terrific. Manpreet motivates all of us through the way he plays his game and ensures that every player is contributing to the team's cause in some way or the other,” he said. 

Robin Arkell’s innovative methods 

Nilakanta Sharma, like the rest of his team-mates, has been held up at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) South Centre, Bengaluru ever since a nation-wide lockdown was announced in India. But that hasn’t stopped him from making the most of the working on himself.

“There's no doubt that it’s been a difficult couple of months for all of us. We made it a point to keep training in whichever way we can once the lockdown began. 

“With minimal equipment such as bands, we are doing several exercises in our rooms throughout the day,” he said. 

The halfback also elaborated that the Indian hockey team’s Scientific Advisor Robin Arkell was innovating with their drills to keep the team engaged and entertained during such testing times.