When a youthful Indian men's hockey team took to the pitch at Blake Park, Tauranga for their first match of a busy 2018 against Japan on Wednesday, they couldn't have asked for better support in the crowd. Rahul Dravid, a "legend in Indian sport" as midfielder Manpreet Singh put it, was in attendance, along with the Under-19 cricket team.
Little surprise then that the young Indian team beat Japan 6-0 in the 4-Nations Invitational tournament to kick the new year off on the perfect note.
"I come from a school [St. Joseph's Boys High School, Bengaluru] that played hockey. I played with a couple of guys who went on to play for India. When I played with the school team, that's when I realised I wasn't very good, but I loved playing hockey and following hockey. I follow the Indian team. It's a lovely sport to watch and play," Dravid, whose U-19 team have won their first two games comprehensively against Australia and Papua New Guinea in the ongoing World Cup in New Zealand, told ESPN.
For India, experienced defenders Rupinder Pal Singh and Harmanpreet Singh scored one goal each, while debutants Vivek Sagar Prasad and Dilpreet Singh netted braces as India scored all six goals inside the first three quarters of the game. Prasad became the second-youngest Indian to appear for the men's team, 11 days older than former defender Sandeep Singh's record of 17 years, 10 months and 11 days.
- BCCI (@BCCI) January 17, 2018
Manpreet thanked the U-19 team for all their support. "It felt great to interact with Rahul Dravid. He said they will come out to watch us play and support us. It was nice for them to stay back till our match finished," he said.
"After that, both teams met and spoke well. Dravid spoke about the importance of not worrying too much about results, but he did say it was important to go in to any game thinking we were in it to win."
The hockey team will play their second game on Thursday against Belgium, while India U-19's third and final group game against Zimbabwe is scheduled for Friday, with Manpreet promising that the hockey team will be watching at the ground this time.
Dravid, who is into his third year of coaching India's youth squads and 'A' teams, spoke of the different mindset needed from his playing days. "It's a lot more challenging and interesting as well. It is very satisfying working with a lot of young players.
"Just being a good player doesn't transfer into being a good coach. It's almost like you have to start over again, learn to coach, learn about things you probably didn't think about as a player. As a coach you sometimes feel you have to think about a lot of other things. It's a great learning curve."