By Prabhjot Singh
Sikhs and Hockey are synonymous. History is replete with instances when in Olympics, World Cup, Asian Games and other international events, Sikh hockey players have turned up for more than one team. There have been instances when in a single game, as many as 15 Sikh players were on the field. In the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, there were three teams – India, Kenya and Uganda – that had substantial number of Sikh players on them. When India played Kenya on September 2, 1972, there were 15 Sikh players on the field. With the exception of Leo Fernandes, rest of the Kenyan team had Sikh players and for India Mukhbain, Ajitpal, Harmik, Harbinder and Harcharan Singh played that game which India won 3-2. And all the goals in the game were scored by Sikh players.Earlier in the Barcelona World Cup Hockey Tournament, the match between India and Kenya again saw 15 Sikh players on the field. This time Kenya had 11 Sikhs (one Substitute, as Kenya had started with 10 but later substitute one Sikh player with another Sikh player) while Indian team had four.But now when Kenya is no more the force it was in 60s and 70s, one gets to see good number of Sikh players in games between India and Canada. The ensuing Junior World Cup in Bhubaneshwar, for example, will witness a good match between India and Canada. While India has five Sikh players, Canada has nine.India plays Canada on November 25.When Hockey India named the 18-member Indian Junior Men’s Hockey Team that will defend the title at the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s Junior World Cup Bhubaneswar 2021, it pinned its hopes on several Punjab players as it had done in the last World Cup. The tournament starting on November 24, will witness 16 top teams from across the globe vie for the honours. The Indian team will see Vivek Sagar Prasad, who was part of India’s historic Olympic Bronze medal feat, as captain the squad while defender Sanjay who was part of the India U-18 team that won Silver at the Youth Olympic Games 2018 in Buenos Aires, will shoulder the responsibility of vice-captain. The 18-member team includes Shardanand Tiwari, Prashant Chauhan, Sudeep Chirmako, Rahul Kumar Rajbhar, Maninder Singh, Pawan, Vishnukant Singh, Ankit Pal, Uttam Singh, Sunil Jojo, Manjeet, Rabichandra Singh Moirangthem, Abhishek Lakra, Yashdeep Siwach, Gurmukh Singh and Araijeet Singh Hundal. Dinachandra Singh Moirangthem and Boby Singh Dhami have been chosen as alternate players who will be allowed to play only if there is an injury or someone in the 18-member squad is ruled out of the tournament due to covid-19. On the other hand, Canada has named its 18 member team after it got entry in the tournament afar b other Australia and New Zealand, citing Covid pandemic as the reason, decided to withdraw from the Bhubaneshwar event.Remember, when Canada participated in the last Junior World Cup, all players, mostly Punjabis, contributed for their trip. That is for their love of hockey. Some of the players were accompanied by their parents who also had the opportunity to visit their ancestral home towns, cities and villages. Surrey-based Tejinder Singh Aujla, who once played for Border Security Force and hails from Kukarpind, another nursery of hockey, in Jalandhar district.Canadian team for Bhubaneshwar tournament is Manveer Jhammat, Alexander Bird, Nic Syrros, Aaron Foong, Avjot Buttar, Roopkamal Dhillon (all defenders), Naman Sharma, Flynn McCulloch, Johnny Jacoby, Sean Davis, Tanvir Kang (forwards),Zachary Coombs and Daniel Goodwin(goalkeepers), Bhavdeep Dhaliwal, R. Childs, Ganga Singh Jr,Jyoth Sidhu, Julius D’Souza and Mankirat Rai (all midfielders).Chief Coach Indy Sehmbi is hopeful that these youngsters, who finished fourth in the last Junior Pan American championship, are a talented group who have trained and worked hard together.On the other hand, speaking about the Indian team selection Chief Coach, Graham Reid, said, “To choose the best 18 players to represent their country is one of the hardest things to do in sport. Each of these guys have put their everything into trying to make this team for the last 12-18 months. Through COVID, through sanctions and lockdowns, huge sacrifices have been made. We have chosen a group of 20 players, a team of 18 and 2 alternate players who we believe gives us the best chance of defending our title as Junior World Cup Champions. It is a well-balanced side with a lot of flexibility and flare. The key to these guys performing on the big stage will be to trust in each other and trust in their preparation.” Reid further spoke of the team’s ongoing preparations in Bhubaneswar where they are putting in the hard yards needed to succeed in the tournament. “The players have been thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to train for the last few days at Kalinga Hockey Stadium which has become an icon in our sport. Even though the ground will be empty, the Olympics have proven that the spectacle of hockey can still be enjoyed by everyone involved,” stated Reid highlighting the team’s excitement ahead of the tournament. India starts its campaign on November 24 against France. It will take on Canada the next day, followed by its match against Poland on November 27. The knockout matches will take place between December 1 and 5 December. The other teams in the fray include Belgium, The Netherlands, Argentina, Germany, Canada, South Africa, Egypt, Pakistan, Korea, Malaysia, Poland, France, Chile, Spain and USA.