Gumtala village residents are elated as one of their own has been selected to the Indian hockey team for the first time.
With his selection, Harbir Singh Sandhu, 22, a resident of this village, has become the youngest player in the squad. His parents, Hardavinder Singh Sandhu and Ravinder Kaur, offered prayers at Harmandar Sahib on Tuesday to celebrate the good news. At Ranjit Vihar in Gumta, relatives and well wishers turned up throughout the day to congratulate Harbir and his parents.
"Even when Harbir was a boy, he used to tell us that he would wear the national jersey one day," Hardavinder, an employee of Punjab Mandi Board, said. "His dream has finally come true."
Harbir will be a part of the 18-member squad at the 34th FIH Champions Trophy and the Lanco International Super Series against Australia. He is a specialist defender and will play in the fullback position. The team was picked by Hockey India on Monday.
Harbir is the only player from either Amritsar or Tarn Taran district to get selected in the senior hockey squad since 1990; before Harbir it was striker Balwinder Singh Shammi, now a hockey coach, who also runs a hockey academy.
"There is a lot of young talent in the Majha belt which we must pick, support and train; then only will we have more players like Harbir," said Shammi.
"The village is proud of Harbir," Gurjit Singh Aujla, a resident of Gumtala and a family friend of the Sandhus, said. "He is the first resident to represent the country in any sport. We hope he goes far."
In the domestic circuit, Harbir plays in the defence for Punjab and Sindh Bank (PSB). He is well acquainted with the pressure of international hockey having played in the junior national hockey team in 2007 and as a member of the team that won the Singapore International Hockey Challenge Cup that year.
PSB Academy took note of Harbir's talent when he used to play for Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) in inter-varsity championships.
"As a boy, he loved hitting the ball with a hockey stick," Hardavinder said. "While studying at Government Senior Secondary School in Mianwind village near Khadoor Sahib in Tarn Taran district, Harbir started playing the game and was a member of the school team."
The Sandhu family, originally from Fatehpur Badesha village in Tarn Taran district, shifted to Gumtala on the outskirts of Amritsar after Harbir was selected by the Surjit Hockey Academy in Jalandhar.
"We are thankful to his school coach Darshan Singh, who drilled the skills into Harbir," Hardavinder said. "Darshan used to say that Harbir's aim should be to play at the international level. The coaches at the Jalandhar academy honed his skills and PSB coach Rajinder Singh, himself a fullback in his playing days, taught Harbir the tactics of defence and tackle."
The village residents have planned a grand reception for Harbir when he returns home in the next couple of days. At present, he is in Patiala where the national squad was selected.