Back into the national fold after overcoming the "toughest phase of his career", fit-again drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh says his comeback will be difficult as he has to stave off stiff competition from juniors to cement his place in the side. A hamstring injury in his right leg just before the Hockey World League Semifinal in London earlier this year had almost jeopardised Rupinder's fledgeling career.
But Rupinder, who last played for India in the Azlan Shah Cup in April-May this year, kept faith in himself and worked extensively during the layoff period in his bid to make a successful return.
"It was difficult (to sit out of the team). It was frustrating as the injury doesn't seem to heal. It began with pain in the adductor muscle and spread to the hamstring. There was pain in the quadriceps as well," Rupinder told PTI after being named in the Indian squad for the season-ending Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar.
"I can say it was the toughest phase of my career. The injury was not healing and it was frustrating to sit out. But I was confident I could overcome this. In such situations, one needs to be patient. I had the support of my family, friends and teammates and that helped me immensely."
The lanky, good-looking defender from Faridkot in Punjab, however, has no regrets as he gears up for the second innings of his career.
"I was always positive (during injury). I have no complaints because whatever has happened is God's wish and I am a God fearing person," Rupinder said.
"The road ahead is obviously difficult because I have to start from the scratch again. It's a new beginning for me. I know I will face stiff competition but only competition can make you better. One can improve more if pushed hard," added the 27-year-old, who had never experienced this sort of an injury layoff before.
In Rupinder's absence, one man who has benefitted the most is young defender Harmanpreet Singh, who not only plies his trade in the same position but also excels in the same art drag-flicking.
"Harman and I share a very good relation. We share our thoughts, our views on the field. So it was always motivating for me to see him excel when I was not in the team," Rupinder said.
Rupinder's inclusion in the HWL Final squad will add sheen to India's already potent penalty corner area which also has the likes of Harmanpreet, Varun Kumar and Amit Rohidas.
But for Rupinder converting penalty corners is not his priority even though dragflicking is an intergral part of his game.
"Penalty corner is my second priority. My first priority is my normal game which is in the defence.
"In a game you always don't get penalty corners but as a player you are always required to play your normal game," Rupinder concluded.
(With PTI Inputs)