Eye on Tokyo, defender Varun wants to excel in Pro League


India hockey team defender Varun Kumar will be high on confidence when the Manpreet Singh-led side takes on Olympic champions Argentina in the FIH Hockey Pro League in Buenos Aires on April 11 and 12.

One of the key players in the team that won the junior hockey World Cup in Lucknow in 2016, Varun quickly emerged as a promising defender and was part of the bronze-winning team at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.

But a series of injury setbacks to the 25-year-old hailing from Punjab saw him sidelined and his last international outing was in October 2019 during India’s tour of Belgium.

The last one-and-a-half years have been a nightmare for the defender as he suffered a shoulder injury, contracted Covid-19 and also suffered a hamstring injury while on a comeback trail. But with the clock ticking towards the Tokyo Olympics, Varun got a call from India’s chief coach Graham Reid for the Argentina tour and he is now “thrilled to be wearing the India jersey again”.

“I am extremely happy to make a comeback after one year and five months…It took me five-six months to recover from my shoulder injury and then I contracted Covid-19 as well. In the meanwhile, I also suffered a hamstring injury. My world had collapsed at that point,” said the defender detailing his struggles over the last year-and-a-half years.

Now fit and raring to go, Varun hopes to be a part of the two practice matches, on April 6 and 7, against the home team before the bigger test, the FIH Hockey Pro League matches, on April 11 and 12.

Despite the setbacks, Varun kept reminding himself that his “chance to shine” will come soon.

“The key was to stay motivated and be patient for opportunities to come your way,” said Varun.

“It wasn’t easy for me. Being out for a long period would sometimes take a toll on me mentally and my mind would begin to wander. I slowly began to accept that such injuries, and the subsequent layoff periods, are a part and parcel of a player’s life,” he added.

“My coaches and the senior players in the side such as Manpreet Singh, PR Sreejesh and Rupinder Pal Singh guided me a lot. They are big players who have seen many highs and lows in their careers. They told me to work hard on regaining my fitness and giving my 100 per cent once the opportunity comes along. Their advice helped me immensely,” Varun added.

A commanding performance in Buenos Aires will most likely cement Varun’s place in the squad for the Tokyo Olympics.

“Yes, that is my target — to make the cut for the Tokyo Olympics. Even though I’ve been out of competitive action for a while, I can get into the rhythm of playing very soon. Playing for your country is such a big honour and wearing the India jersey just gives you confidence to achieve great things for your country. The opportunity to play in the Olympics is also an added boost; it’s a dream for any player. So I am keen to make an impact for my team whenever I get to play,” said Varun.