BANGALORE: The last Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tournament was a forgettable experience for the Indian hockey team but for the emergence of another promising talent.
The gangling Rupinder Pal Singh hit the headlines by being the top-scorer in the Malaysian tournament with his six-goal effort, all coming through penalty corners.
A call-up to the national camp was a foregone conclusion for the 20-year-old drag-flick specialist from Faridkot near Jalandhar and the youngster is optimistic of prosperous years ahead if he treads the path of hard work and commitment.
On Thursday, at the MEG training centre, Rupinder had to probably do the 'chores' of a junior member. Asked to retrieve the practice balls scattered around the lush green artificial turf, the Punjab defender patiently collected the dimpled spheres even as his illustrious seniors sweated it out in a fast-paced practice game.
Eagerly awaiting his turn to impress coach Michael Nobbs and Co., the lanky customer recalled his success at Azlan Shah. "It felt great to emerge top-scorer there, that too along with the likes of someone like Sohail Abbas. I am hoping to continue the good work and establish myself in the senior ranks," notes the Indian Overseas Bank recruit.
At 6'4'', Rupinder easily stands out with his beanpole physique, but he acknowledges that it is his skills that have to catch the attention of the team management. With the new coach Nobbs already dwelling about the all-round qualities of a drag-flicker, Rupinder is ready to give his best.
"I want to contribute both as a drag-flicker and a defender as that balance is of utmost importance. You cannot excel in one department and lag behind in the other. The drag-flick is an art combining power and placement. Defending too is a specialist role," remarks the young gun.
Hockey, Rupinder says, is a "family affair" and the Punjab lad is related to international Gagan Ajit Singh as well. "I was inspired by the achievements of Gagan bhai as well as to the penalty corner success of Jugraj Singh and Sandeep Singh. Starting my hockey at the age of eleven, I took a liking for drag-flicks as well and has been doing it for the past four years," opens up Rupinder.
The youngster made his international debut at the senior level last year, incidentally at the Azlan Shah Cup, though he was left warming the benches most of the time. The European tour same year came as a good experience though he could find a place only in the standby list in the Commonwealth Games and Asiad squads in 2010.
The decision to field a young side for the 2011 edition of Azlan Shah Cup opened up the window of opportunity for the lanky customer and he grabbed it by both hands. Queried about his chances of making the final cut in the camp, Rupinder says: "My job is to perform well in training sessions and practice matches and rest is in coach's hands."
A few minutes later, the youngster took his stick and rushed in to the field of action. After all, it was not just his height which caught the attention of the close watchers.