As the 11th edition of FIH Junior Hockey World Cup started at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium in Lucknow, a WhatsApp group chat gradually shifted towards the ongoing tournament. The group members, though, were not ordinary hockey fans. In fact, they were members of 2001 Junior World Cup-winning India team. The group comprised the captain of that team, Gagan Ajit Singh, along with Jugraj Singh, Prabhjot Singh and others.

“A few members of 2001 Junior World Cup winning team are connected with each other through WhatsApp,” said Gagan Ajit Singh. “As the tournament progressed, Team India and its performances became the focal point of our discussions. We started discussing how India colts should play and what their strategies should be keeping in mind their next opponents,” he addd.

As the tournament reached its business end, the conversation among the group members grew by leaps and bounds, with each of the participants hoping India repeated their 2001 feat and won the coveted trophy.

Their wishes came true on Sunday as India not only lifted the trophy after a long period of 15 years, but also became the first host country to win the title. The Harjeet Singh-led side defeated Belgium 2-1 in the summit clash in front of a packed crowd at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium in Lucknow to trigger wild celebrations in the city and across the country.

India played aggressive hockey right from outset in the final. The hosts showed their intent in the first few minutes as captain Harjeet Singh ripped apart the Belgium defence inside the first two minutes. The offensive strategy soon paid back as Gurjant Singh got hold of an aerial pass and scored for India through a powerful reverse hit to give the hosts a 1-0 lead in the eighth minute.

Proud moment

Gagan Ajit Singh said it was a proud moment for India, adding that the current team deserved to win the trophy and the boys did it in style. “These players are deserving winners. They are a bunch of energetic players and they proved their mettle by clinching the title in front of their home crowd,” said Gagan, who played for India in 2000 and 2004 Olympics.

The Olympian said the Indian team was the favourite to win the tournament and it lived up to the expectations of the fans by bringing home the trophy after a gap of 15 years. “They started the event as favourites. The preparations were good and they got support from the crowd. But all this could have had a negative impact on the team and they could have succumbed under pressure. But these boys rose to the occasion and didn’t let pressure of expectations take a toll on them. It’s all a result of their hard work and dedication,” he said.

Impressive fitness

While Gagan hailed the team combination, he was also pretty impressed with the fitness of the Indian players. “The most striking thing about this team is [the] fitness level of the players. They are at par with foreign players in every sense. Their energy on the field is unmatched,” said the former India international, who is now working as Deputy Commissioner of Police with Punjab police.

The current Indian team bears a striking resemblance with the class of 2001. Like the Gagan Ajit Singh-led side, the present team, too, have the experience of playing at the international level. Players like Mandeep Singh, Harmanpreet Singh and Vikas Dahiya have already played for India in big events.

Most of these junior players have been playing for different franchises in the Hockey India League. This exposure has given them a chance to rub shoulders with international stars.
All these factors combined to form a potent team and these future stars of Indian hockey did not let their fans down as they remained unbeaten in the tournament to win the trophy.

Future stars

Captain Harjeet Singh got emotional in the post-match conference on Sunday and said that the team will give a lot of joy to the countrymen in the days to come.

“I would like to thank all the players who aimed to win this trophy. Everybody has put in a lot of hard work. We all had one aim and we thankfully managed to achieve that today. The crowd support gave us a lot of confidence, but we played according to our structure, which we have been implementing for the last two-and-a-half years. This team is going to give a lot of joy to you all in the future,” he said.

Even coach Harendra Singh was all praise for his boys and said he was confident of winning the trophy when he took over the reigns of the team two years ago. “In April 2014, I had said that we are going to win the trophy. You can ask these boys. Today’s heroes are the players and I won’t take the limelight. These are 18 golden gems of India and today is their day,” he said after the match.