Yashodhan Nakhare speaks to India’s rising star in a pivotal year for the senior national team
Out of defeat comes the drive. For Vivek Prasad, it is the sight of an inspired opposition captain which will long live in the memory, one which came on home soil in India’s bronze medal defeat at the Junior World Cup against France.
After scoring, Timothee Clement had turned to his team-mates and pointed the index finger to his temple. He then let out a huge roar. “That’s what inspired me,” admits Prasad, a double FIH rising star award winner.
The Indian junior team captain and the second youngest player to debut for the senior team (in 2018, aged 17), Prasad is now a mainstay in the Indian midfield.
The 22-year-old, who celebrated his birthday last month, was all smiles with the senior team returning to the Kalinga Stadium for the first time recently after the Olympic bronze in Tokyo, as he shared his experiences as national junior captain – “an honour,” he said – and his goals for the future after finishing his junior career with a fourth place finish in Bhubaneswar.
“We were defending champions and wanted to build on the success of the senior team from Tokyo,” he tells The Hockey Paper, “but France proved to be too good. We lost to them twice, once in the group stages and then the third-place game.
“I remember the first group stage match where they took the lead early. Their captain Clement was huge and he scored a brilliant penalty corner, but what followed caught my eye and left a mark on me.”
He then recounts Clement’s temple-pointing moment. “His leadership qualities throughout the tournament were a delight to watch,” adds Prasad. “I loved how he rallied the other players, picking them up when they made mistakes and how he communicated.”
Prasad certainly took note of his French counterpart, who scored a hat-trick that day. He told himself that “this is the kind of leader I want to be.”
Prasad and Clement soon met again, when their respective senior teams travelled to Potchefstroom, South Africa for the FIH Pro League in February. Again, he was impressed with how vocal the Frenchman was, even with the senior players.
Impressed with the university culture and the stadium, he is now excited for the Indian women’s junior team who will play the Women’s Junior World Cup there next month.
“Having played for India for five years now, I’ve travelled to some wonderful stadiums around the world. But nothing will come close to the facilities we have at Kalinga, Bhubaneshwar.
“The hockey culture that has grown the last few years has been terrific. We athletes love coming here and there is no place like home. I’m sure other teams also love it here.”
Talking about the upcoming Asian Games, he also admitted that gold (and qualification for Paris 2024) was the team’s utmost priority. “It’s something the team’s building towards, and we all want it badly after missing out last time.”
“The FIH Pro League is a great way to find the right combinations for the team. Personally, I just want to stay fit, practice hard and get more matches under my belt. I want to win the gold at the Asian Games and have a great World Cup at home next year”, he shared.
And all the while taking in every ounce of experience as he continues to develop as a player on the road to Paris and a second Olympics.
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