Enriched by his experience during the Argentina tour, attacking midfielder Nilakanta Sharma hopes to carry his current run of form into the Olympics. He also feels that recent results have given the Indian men’s hockey team momentum going into the big-ticket event: “The Argentina tour was an important experience for all of us. We were yearning for proper match practice while building up towards the Olympics. We had spent a lot of time in national camps over the past year trying to work on our game. I am glad that it paid off. We showed a lot of character despite a lot of players taking the field after a long time,” he said in a recent interview to Khel Now.
Talking about the difficult time for the team due to the Covid-19 pandemic: “We made it a point to keep training and work on our game even while being indoors. Our preparations for the Olympics started last year in the FIH Pro League, where we fared well against World Champions Belgium, Netherlands and Australia. We also had a solid tour of Europe earlier this year. That gave us the confidence that we could face the best teams and come out on top.”
He scored India’s first goal of the Argentina tour and followed the effort with an assist in the second practice match: “I have learned to stay calm and composed in pressure situations. I feel we combine well…captain Manpreet, Dilpreet and Hardik. We have a very good understanding of each other’s game. What we saw in Argentina was a result of a lot of hard during training sessions. As I said, the more we played with each other, our game improved. Conversations with chief coach Graham Reid have been open. He has been approachable from day one and has given me a very clear idea about my role in the team,” said the 25-year-old.
The Manipuri has come a long way from being a Junior World Champion on home soil in 2016, a team that also included current stars Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar and Krishan Pathak among others. He now dreams of adding an important medal in his trophy cabinet: “I have been playing with these guys for such a long time. We are close friends and always try to help each other out. We are taking small steps at the moment and not getting ahead of ourselves. Hopefully, we will carry our current form into the Olympics as well,” Nilakanta Sharma signed off.