He is the demure, hesitant kind, who perpetually lets his hockey stick do the talking during the 60 minutes of play. Meet India’s capable defender Nilam Sanjeep Xess, a pillar in the Indian defence. In a nutshell, the calmest entertainer in the Indian hockey team. Interview Time’s Sports editor had a chat with him.
How are you coping up with the COVID-19 situation?
Right now, I am in my village whenever I get time I go out with my mates. Luckily, the cases have been low in our village, so it has given me the liberty to do physical exercises in the morning. In recent years, I was not getting enough time to spend with my family, but it’s been a blessing to spend all my time with my family due to the pandemic.
Tell us something about your journey from the early days to being one of the most important cog in the Indian hockey team line-up?
I started playing with my brother in our backyard. And then in school, I use to participate in all sports. My interest in the sport grew when I watched my friends playing hockey. My parents used to chastise me when I used to go for Hockey practice.
They used to tell me that you have no future in the game, so its sheer waste of time. Focus on your studies and get a good job. However, we managed to find our way to the hockey field almost every day. But now the situation has changed they tell me that you have proved us all wrong and we are happy to be on the wrong side.
Which is your favorite hockey stadium?
Hands down, Kalinga Stadium.
The most cherished moment as a player?
The most cherished moment for me, when I was appointed the skipper of the U18 Asia Cup at Dhaka in Sep. 2016. I also helped the team to lift the Asia Cup in a pulsating final against Bangladesh.
How difficult was it for you to shift your focus from Olympics 2020 to 2021?
Yes, it was pretty tricky as everything was planned and ready to be executed, but COVID-19 has put cold water on our preparations. I was upset when I realized that I have to wait one more year to embrace my dream of playing for India at the Olympics. But it has given me more time to refine my skills and add more weapons to my armoury.
Once a giant in International hockey, Indian hockey can’t rival any semblance of Australia and Germany. What could be the explanation behind that?
Indeed, the explanation can be credited to AstroTurf. Honestly, the new playing surface which was presented in the mid-1970s. The International Hockey Federation (FIH) adjusted the standards to make manufactured AstroTurf the compulsory playing surface for universal hockey competitions.
The 1976 Olympics in Montreal was the first Game where AstroTurf was used in hockey. Just because since we started playing hockey in the 1928 Games in Amsterdam, India didn’t even win bronze.
While grass, on which hockey had been played globally for almost a century, allowed talented Indian and Pakistani players to trap the ball, spill, and pass, AstroTurf suits the rawness of European and Australian hockey players dependent on raw power as opposed to technical skill. Europeans are mentally very tough, and they fight till the last minute.
Who is your favourite hockey player?
Among the previous players, it is Mr Dilip Tirkey and Birendra Lakra among the current players.
How will you rate the year 2020 for Indian hockey, and what are your desires from the year 2021?
The start of 2020 for Indian Hockey was exceptional. The momentum was building for the 2020 Olympics in Japan, but due to COVID-19, things have turned upside down. Here we were playing at Kalinga Stadium against Australia and Belgium in Pro-League, but the pandemic has slightly affected our preparations. But we are optimistic about the upcoming year 2021.
Media has a significant influence on teaching individuals about various things. Do you think media has neglected to give proper coverage to hockey?
I won’t state it has fizzled. Even though it’s actual whenever contrasted with cricket, we are a long way behind regarding inclusion. Hockey is our national game, yet at the same time, we don’t get enough inclusion.
Is Indian domestic hockey standard at par with International hockey standards?
There is a big gap between Domestic and international hockey standards. In India, domestic hockey is not that competitive, and it’s experiencing a difficult stretch.
When the players stay in the national camp, they remain fit, but when they are not in contention, they tend to relax and make themselves unfit. If a tournament is ten days away, they decide to go out and start training, that’s why we don’t get enough competition in domestic hockey.
Do you think the scrapping of HIL has broadened the gap between domestic and international hockey?
Yes, Hockey India League used to produce young talents who later represented the Indian team at the international stage. Earlier, we used to rub shoulders with the foreign coaches and players, which helped the overall development of a young player.
What is your recommendation for young hockey players who are coming up?
I would encourage them to buckle down with an inspirational demeanor and keep up the discipline to take our national banner ever more elevated. I want to see my national flag on the top, consistently.
Any pre-coordinate odd or customs?
No, nothing of that sort. Before the game, I usually converse with my family and pray to God to assist me with returning triumphant.
Any message for hockey fans?
Keep coming to watch our matches after the pandemic gets over since we need your help and wishes.
Article Written By Sobhan Garnaik, Sports Editor, The Interview Times