With five goals to his name in just three matches at the ongoing FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s Junior World Cup Bhubaneswar 2021, Araijeet Singh Hundal has grabbed the attention of hockey buffs with his impressive performance.
The lanky lad from Amritsar is quick on his feet as a forward and as one of the four penalty corner specialists in the Indian Junior side, Hundal has proved his mettle with powerful dragflicks in crunch situations to help his side. His hat-trick of goals in India’s 13-1 win against Canada even earned him the Player of the Match title.
Next up in the Quarter Final, the hosts will take on a highly competitive Belgium in what could be a repeat of the 2016 Junior World Cup Final in Lucknow where India had emerged victorious.
Oblivious of the significance of that epic match in Bhubaneswar that changed the lives of many rising stars in both Belgium and the Indian team, Araijeet Hundal just wants to focus on the match on 1st December without going into past results.
“I was just 12 years old when the 2016 Junior World Cup was held in Lucknow and I don’t know too many details of that tournament but of course now I am aware of how that tournament changed many players lives.” recalled the 17-year-old striker.
“Although I picked up the hockey stick at a very young age because of my father (Kuljeet Singh) who used to play hockey for the Railways and was even part of the India camp in 1999, I began serious practice only in 2015-2016,” he said.
Araijeet made his first appearance in the domestic circuit when he played for Punjab & Sindh Bank at the Hockey India Junior Men National Championship in Bhopal, 2018. Following yet another impressive outing for his team at the Hockey India Junior Men National Championship in Aurangabad, 2019, Araijeet was called-up for the National Camp for Juniors in SAI, Bengaluru.
Though his first call-up for the National Camp in 2019 was a great experience for the youngster as he was housed in the same campus as his Senior compatriots, the nation-wide lockdown only a few months later in March 2020 meant that he had to put in some hard yards back home in Amritsar to keep up his skillsets as a potential forward for the India Colts side.
“My father put up a net at home and got a small mat on which I could practice. I would take 100 dragflicks each day to hone my skills.”
“Once the Camp resumed in September 2020, my interactions with the Senior team players like Rupinder and Harmanpreet was very helpful.
While all of them said my technique is good, they asked me to pay more attention on my footwork, and how to release the ball. I worked a lot on my timing, power and shoulder movement after coming into the camp,” expressed Araijeet Hundal.
But something that really stuck with him were the words of India defender and dragflicker Varun Kumar, who was part of India’s historic Olympic Bronze Medal winning team. “He told me to keep my head up and look more confident while taking the dragflick.
Another crucial advice the Seniors gave me was to study the opponent goalkeeper’s weaknesses. During the lockdown, our Coach (BJ Kariappa) would also share a lot of videos of Senior Team’s dragflickers on our Whatsapp group so we could study their movement and implement necessary basic changes to our style. I feel all these factors have helped a lot,” he added.
Playing only his first-ever tournament for India, Araijeet reflected his excitement of turning up in the Blue Jersey. “It has been very special, no doubt. Playing in this venue (Kalinga Hockey Stadium) was always a dream. I feel we took our first match a bit too lightly but have learnt from our mistake.
But now, we are fully charged up for the Quarter Finals against Belgium. We had a meeting especially for forwards today and we know even one small mistake or even a second of drop in energy will cost us dearly against Belgium. So, we are totally focused on bringing our ‘A’ game against them,” he concluded.