Devesh Chauhan has been there and done that. He was goalkeeper and vice-captain of the India junior team when it won its maiden hockey junior World Cup in 2001. Just like it came down to saving two shots for India goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya against Australia on Friday, same was the case for Chauhan in 2001.
“India, the Netherlands and Australia were fighting for a spot in the semifinal from their group and we were in a do-or-die match against the Netherlands as Argentina had beaten Australia just before that match. We were leading 4-3 and in the last second of the game, the Dutch got a penalty corner. It was like, they qualify if they score (or) India reach the semis if we stop that PC. It all boiled down to those few heart-stopping seconds,” recalled Devesh during a chat on Saturday.
“As we got ready for the PC, Ignace Tirkey, who was standing beside me, said ‘if the hit is to the left, it will be my ball, if it is to right, you take it’. It was a powerful shot to the left that ricocheted off Ignace’s stick and fell beyond the 25-yard line and we were in the semis,” said Devesh.
The semifinal against Germany was a thriller too; India surged to a 3-0 lead in the first half but Germany fought valiantly in the second, attacked in waves and earned 10 penalty corners. Devesh and his defenders managed to keep nine out while allowing only one to get past them.
“That was the best match of my junior career. I don’t think I have played better than that ever. The final did not feel like a final as we were up 3-1 at the break and made it 6-1 within minutes of resumption,” said Devesh, who proudly carries forward the legacy of Uttar Pradesh hockey nurtured by the likes of KD Singh ‘Babu’ and Jhaman Lal Sharma.
The former India goalkeeper said that against Belgium on Sunday, the juniors will “have to continue playing like they have done so far. They will win the title if they reproduce the game they played against Australia. The crowd will be a big factor on Sunday and the boys should take its presence positively and feed on that energy,” added Devesh.
The 35-year-old from Etawah rated the players of the current squad highly and felt many of them could make it to the senior level. “I believe at least 5-6 of these boys like Harjeet, Harmanpreet, Vikas Dahiya, Varun and Mandeep have the capacity to shine at the senior level and can play at the international level for long.”