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Shamsher Singh hopes to make his mark in Paris too | Hockey

Graham Reid had faced a lot of criticism in the summer of 2021 when he had dropped experienced campaigners Akashdeep Singh, SV Sunil and Ramandeep Singh from the squad heading to Tokyo and instead picked a young Shamsher Singh, who had played only six matches ahead of the Olympics.

Shamsher Singh
Shamsher Singh

It had perhaps never happened in the history of Indian hockey that a player with such less experience was picked for the most important tournament in the sport. But the former India chief coach had a lot of belief in the youngster from the border village of Attari.

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Shy and quiet both on-and-off the field, Shamsher responded to the vote of confidence by delivering in the Japanese capital to help India end a 41-year wait for an Olympic medal. Shamsher featured in all of India’s eight matches at the Olympics and was later awarded the Arjuna for his contribution in helping India win the historic bronze medal.

Fast forward to 2024. The 26-year-old is no longer a novice but an accomplished attacking midfielder who has not just played but also helped India achieve multiple accolades. Only last year, Shamsher guided the Indian team to claim gold at both the Asian Champions Trophy in Chennai and later at the Asian Games in Hangzhou that resulted in direct Olympic qualification for India.

Shamsher’s main strengths are maintaining his pace and forging ahead despite being on the ball, his peripheral vision and the ability to comprehend the kind of press needed that has made him a vital cog in wheel for new chief coach Craig Fulton too.

Though still early days, Shamsher looks well on his way to his second Olympics as Fulton has included him in the 28 core probables out of which the 16 heading to Paris will be selected.

“A lot has changed in the last three years. I’ve learnt a lot through the process, from every match, irrespective of the result. When you have the experience then expectations increase from yourself and also from the team. I am not thinking of the 16. I will only think about what is in my control and give my best. Decision making rests with the coach,” said Shamsher, a ward of the famous Surjit Singh Hockey Academy in Jalandhar which has produced many India internationals like Manpreet Singh, Varun, Simranjeet Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh and Mandeep Singh.

“But yes, I have become more mentally strong having gone through a lot of ups and downs, especially how to bounce back after a loss.”

A couple of Shamsher’s USPs have always been flexibility and adaptability. When he joined the national setup in 2019, he was drafted in as a pure striker. Five years down the line, his role has transformed into an attacking midfielder whose primary roles include creating chances for forwards, maintaining structure in the middle and also aiding the defenders when in need. His role became more prominent under Fulton’s ‘defend to win’ philosophy.

“Earlier I used to focus a lot on shooting. I improved a lot too. Now it has changed to tackling. I have also worked a lot on my tackling as the role in midfield is very different. The role of defending increases. Fulton’s strategy presses are quite different to Reid’s,” said Shamsher, who has 86 international caps.

“I try to focus on the 3-4 press formations like now we play a lot of zonal hockey even in half press. Earlier it was a little more about man-to-man marking. Now, it is a mix. Our coach is very tactical who believes in always maintaining structure whether with the ball or without. Then my objective is to observe which team is weak in which areas and attack accordingly. I am working and have improved in imbibing these things. You will see that on the field.”

Shamsher, the son of a farmer, now wants to make the cut for the squad and help India stand on the podium once again in Paris.

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