Bhubaneswar, Nov 20 (IANS): India junior hockey team midfielder and the captain of the side for the upcoming FIH junior World Cup here, Vivek Sagar Prasad, said on Saturday that the structure of the team had improved a lot as the players "remained and trained together" during the Covid lockdown, and it will come in handy when playing in the global showpiece event.
The Junior hockey World Cup begins here on November 24, with India scheduled to play their opening Pool B game, against France, on the opening day.
Speaking on the junior team's improvement since he first played with them in 2017, Prasad said, "The team performed better in 2018 and 2019, but in 2020, the Covid period was a period of struggle for all. But the players remained and trained together with the aim to win the title (in Bhubaneswar), and hence the unity and the bond between them has improved a lot. The structure of the team has also improved."
Prasad also said that some of the players had shown tremendous improvement, namely Maninder Singh, Rahul Rajbar, and Sanjay. "I hope and I believe we will do well in this tournament as well."
The 21-year-old Prasad, who was part of India's historic bronze medal-winning campaign at the Tokyo Olympics, recalled how he had to battle injuries early on in his career.
"In 2013, in one of the small tournaments in my village in Itarsi district, Madhya Pradesh, Ashok Dhyan Chand (son of legendary Dhyan Chand) came as the chief guest. He picked me from there and gave me an opportunity to come to the academy. I was shocked that such a big player is calling me to his academy. I could not believe it," Prasad revealed.
"Two years later, I came to the India junior national camp. But unfortunately, I was not selected in the 33-man core group. A week later, when I went back to the academy, I suffered a major injury as my collar bone broke. After the operation, it took me around five months to recover.
"After I returned, I suffered another injury, and it was serious. The doctor told my parents that there is very little chance of my recovery. But I kept my focus on my recovery, and my family and friends helped," he added.
In 2017, Prasad led the India junior team for the first time at the Sultan of Johor Cup tournament in Malaysia, where India finished in third position. Prasad was named the 'Young Player of the Tournament' for his consistent performances.
In 2018, Prasad received a call-up to the India senior team, and now, after performing at the highest level against some of the best teams in the world in the past three years, the young star will be leading India's team at the Junior World Cup as they look to defend the title.