The Indian men’s hockey team has ten Olympic debutants while the women’s team has eight for Tokyo Olympics 2020. It remains to be seen if these 18 debutants can withstand the hopes of a billion people.
We take a look at the top three men and women Olympic debutants who are expected to make a mark at their very first Games.
With more than 150 caps to his name, Mandeep Singh will be one of the most experienced debutants of the Indian Men’s team. Mandeep first came to the limelight during the 2013 Hockey India League (HIL), where he helped his team (Ranchi Rhinos) clinch the title by defeating Punjab Warriors in the final.
A product of the famous Surjit Singh Hockey Academy, Mandeep will be a vital cog in fulfilling India’s dream of a podium finish in Tokyo. Since winning the Junior Hockey World cup in 2016, Mandeep has been a regular in India’s squad.
Mandeep’s unconventional style of scoring goals and tricky ways of creating opportunities inside the penalty area make him a standout performer. Given India’s relatively inexperienced forward line, the ONGC employee with 82 international goals to his name will have to shoulder the responsibility of scoring goals for India.
Lalit’s story is a bit different from everyone else. Hailing from Karampur, Uttar Pradesh, he has seen enough ups and downs in his life. He made his debut for India in the 2014 Hockey World Cup but was in and out of the team until he cemented his place with four goals at the 2017 Asia Cup in Dhaka.
Considered a “game-changer”, Lalit has been a force to reckon with in India’s forward line. With 27 international goals, the BPCL man will look to change Indian hockey’s fortunes after four medal-less decades at the Olympics.
One of the youngest and most skilled forwards in Graham Reid’s team, Dilpreet has climbed up the ranks very quickly. With 18 goals in just 44 games, the Punjab lad is definitely a find for the future.
Dilpreet’s stellar performance for the Junior Men’s Team in the 2017 Sultan of Johor Cup earned him a call-up to the senior team. His intricate skills and ball control make him dangerous on the pitch.
Just 21, Dilpreet will be looking to showcase his special talent with the stick at the Olympics, his biggest event to date.
Unlike in men’s hockey, there are not many drag flickers in the women’s team who can help during short corners. But, the 25-year-old from Amritsar seems to have mastered the art. A defender par excellence and a mighty flicker, Gurjit Kaur has been in the Indian setup since 2013.
She was in and out of the team until she cemented her place during the Asia Cup in 2017. She scored eight goals in the tournament. She was also the top scorer at the FIH Series Finals in Japan with 11 goals.
Gurjit is someone who can run in, scoop and flick the ball at a pace upwards of 130kph. A lone drag-flicker for the team, India will be looking for Gurjit’s exploits in the short corners.
With a whopping 60 goals in just 87 matches, Gurjit will try to add more to her tally at the mega event.
Having played just nine matches, the 19-year-old made her debut in the Ready Steady Tokyo Hockey 2020 Olympic Test Event in 2019. Her only international goal came against the USA in the FIH Olympic Qualifiers 2019 which helped the Indian eves book their ticket to the Olympics.
While the team has an experienced forward line that includes Rani Rampal, Vandana Katariya and Navneet Kaur, Sharmila could be a surprise package in Tokyo as not many teams have seen her game.
Lalremsiami, the first female player from Mizoram to make the cut for the Olympics, has always been part of history in the making. Although Tokyo will be her debut Olympics, she is no stranger to the big stage. A member of the silver-medal winning Youth Olympics team, the 21-year-old has scored 23 goals in 64 matches.
Fondly known as “Siami,” the Mizo striker became the first female player in the country to win the FIH Rising Star of the Year 2019 award. Young but mature, Lalremsiami might be a “tooth on the rim of the gear wheel” for Team India.
What should be expected from the Indian Olympic debutants?
While there have been talks about taking a relatively young team to Tokyo, it remains to be seen how the coaches will use these youngsters in the matches. We can just wait and watch.