The 38th Surjit Hockey Tournament has a number of strong contenders and Indian Oil is surely one among them. The oilmen are one of the consistent performers in the Indian domestic circuit – they had to settle for the runner-up position in the 2019 edition when they went down to Punjab & Sind Bank 3-6 in a shootout after both teams were locked 2-2 in regulation time. Indian Oil have won the Surjit Hockey Tournament on four occasions – 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2014 and have been runners-up on six occasions.
Former Indian forward and Olympian Deepak Thakur, who is the Indian Oil coach, says it hasn’t been easy for his team, in terms of preparations. “The boys are slightly out of touch with hockey on account of Covid-19. We lack match practice but are hopeful of putting up a good showing in the Surjit Hockey Tournament. This is the first domestic hockey tourney to happen in two years and is one of India’s finest tournaments and the boys are raring to go.”
The two-time Olympian believes that teams that have been practising together for a long time will have the advantage. “I think teams such as Army XI, Indian Navy, Indian Air Force and Railways have been training together for a long period of time and that will stand them in good stead for this tournament. We were bogged down by lack of match practice but we have enough ammunition to do well,” opines Deepak.
The 40-year-old Indian Oil coach is putting up a confident front despite the non-availability of key players owing to the ongoing national camp. “Three players of the Tokyo Olympic squad – Dilpreet Singh, Hardik Singh, Simranjeet Singh as well as Krishan Pathak are not part of this side – something we can’t do much about. However, we have several former internationals like Olympians Vokkaliga Raghunath and Kothajit Singh, Affan Yousuf, Bharat Chikkara, Roshan Minz and Vikram Kanth, who bring a lot of experience to the side.”
All the top teams are missing key players owing to the ongoing national camp and Deepak feels that the presence of big names is important for the future of domestic hockey. “In my playing days I used to play regularly play in the domestic circuit whenever I am free from national camp. You need stars players for the popularity of the sport and the reason why people know me is not just because I played for India but also because I used to play regularly in domestic tourneys,” he shares his perspective.