NEW DELHI: Being reserved is not exactly a Punjabi archetype. But this up-and-coming striker demystifies the stereotypical notions of Punjabiness. Akashdeep Singh is unusually calm, as though he is permanently contemplative, speaks reticently and softly, and comes across as self-effacing.
That though doesn’t necessarily connote to being meek or soft. He is aggressive, though being aggressive doesn’t mean getting under your marker’s skin or celebrating goals with high-fives and fist pumps. But only once, he recounts, has he celebrated wildly. That was after he netted a terrific goal against South Korea to ensure India’s progress to the Asian Games final. But for his hazel eyes that bulge, there’s hardly any signifier of him being excited when recounting the experience.
His face is impassive and the tone in his voice plain. “I was lurking at the top of the ‘D’ when Ramandeep slipped in the ball to me. I was not exactly well positioned to have a straight shy at the goal. My back was facing the goal and there were two defenders behind me. Whatever I had to do, I needed to do it fast. I turned to my right and shot straight at the goal. Because of the defenders the goalkeeper was unsighted and my shot was accurate. But still that was a very difficult angle. For the next two minutes, everything seemed a blur,” he narrates.
That moment is permanently frozen in his mind’s lens. It finally vindicated his decision to join the Ludhiana Academy, when he was only 12. “I was interested in hockey from a young age, but I had never thought of taking it seriously until my brother Pradheep started playing. So I would accompany him to the academy and got hooked to the game,” he recollects.
Soon their backyard turned to a compressed hockey field, with both brothers engrossed one-on-ones after returning from school. “Initially, I used to lose every match. Prabhdeep being two years senior to me was very powerful and used to score more goals. But gradually, I devised means to fool him. Here I learned my first biggest lesson in hockey — you have to be not only strong but also clever.”
At the age of 14, he moved to the fabled Surjit Academy, a nursery of so many legends. This was when the burning urge to play for the country flamed in his mind. Like so many fledging hockey players from Punjab, Sardar Singh became his template. “We all wanted to be like him and play alongside him.”
Four years later, his dream was realised as he was inducted into the national team, a few days before his 18th birthday. He beat his brother to that, who was then in the U-19 squad. “I was leaving for the Junior Asia Cup in Malaysia when I got to learn from an internet post that I had been selected for the Australian tour.”
Now he plays with Sardar not just in the national team but also in the HIL.
“I am one of those lucky ones to not only play under his guidance in the national team but also in the HIL where we are with Delhi Waveriders. Watching him play as well as discussing the game with him has helped me to learn a few tricks of the trade and has enhanced my game immensely,” he admits.