Back in the side after London Olympics last year, star drag flicker Sandeep Singh has credited his friend and Indian cricketer Harbhajan Singh for helping him come out of the bad phase that sidelined him from the national squad for nine months.
Sandeep returned to the national-fold for the upcoming FIH World League Round 3 (semifinals) to be played in the Netherlands after being dropped from the Asian Champions trophy, Champions trophy, Azlan Shah cup and World League Rd 2 played earlier this year.
"Last few months were tough for me and I was stressed. I spoke to Bhajji who is a good friend. He told me not to give up hard work and spend quality time with family. I did the same and despite not being a part of final team I took part in every camp. I was confident that my hard work will come good for me," Sandeep told PTI in an interview.
Sandeep was out of favour after London Olympics due to slump in form but his performance in the inaugural Hockey India League, where he emerged as the top scorer with 11 goals in 12 matches, put him in reckoning for a national call-up.
The 27-year-old had a good outing in last month's Dutch tour as well. Though he went through highs and lows in his career after a terrible Olympics campaign, he said he did not lose his self-belief.
"When I had an accident in 2006, no one believed that I will return to the ground but I did. This time also I was out of the team for long but I was confident of making a comeback," he said.
Sandeep was seriously injured after being hit by an accidental gunshot in Shatabadi train in 2006 while on his way to join the national team ahead of the Germany World Cup. He was almost paralysed and wheelchaired for two years.
The gritty fullback however not only recovered from that career threatening injury, but also reestablished himself in the team.
Asked how he felt after being left out from the team, Sandeep said he was inspired to do better and make way for himself.
"As cricketer Yuvraj Singh says 'jab tak balla chal raha hai thaat hai, lekin jab balla nahi chalega toh..' (Till the time you are scoring it's good, but when runs don't come then what) Similarly I am nobody without hockey. Hockey is my passion and I cannot live without it. I was inspired to work hard, do better and make a come back," Sandeep.
Sandeep used this break to work on his fitness and weaknesses with the help of national coach Micheal Nobbs and high performance director Roelant Oltmans.
"I took part in every single camp and played HIL as well. I have utilised this break to work hard on fitness and to improve my game. I used to ask both of them (Nobbs and Oltmans) that how I can improve my game. They have helped me a lot," said the ex-India skipper.
Besides working on his defense skills, Sandeep has also practiced playing in the midfield.
"I have worked on my defense skills and played in the midfield as well. Coaches are preparing players to play at any given position," he explained.
Strong challenge from teams like Australia, the Netherlands and Spain awaits the Indian team in the World League Rd 3 to be played from June 13-23 but Sandeep is confident of a good show.
"We have had hard training in last couple of weeks and the focus was on aggressive hockey. Now it's upto us how we can implement the strategy in the ground. I am sure that we will not let our coaches down," he said.
The Indian squad has developed good penalty corner specialists in the form of vice captain VR Raghunath and Rupinder Pal Singh but Sandeep said he does not feel any pressure alongside them.
"It is good for Indian Hockey that we have so many fine drag flickers in the team. There is a healthy competition which motivates us to do well," he said.