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Ready to return to international hockey after a 10-month hiatus that was forced by an accidental gun-shot, Sandeep Singh asserts that his drag-flicks still have the fire to rattle the best of defences.
Named in the 18-member Indian team for the six-nation Champions Challenge hockey tournament in Boom, Belgium, from June 23 to July 1, Sandeep insists he is fully fit and raring to go.
"I am not feeling any pressure, neither am I nervous [to play an international tournament]. My mindset is as it used to be. My body is fit enough and my form is intact. I am as fit as I used to be," the ace drag-flicker said.
Sandeep admitted that the fear of remaining unfit forever crossed his mind while recuperating from the bullet injury in hospital.
"For one month the fear was there that I may not be able to play hockey again. But my parents and doctors always boosted my morale and made me believe that I could regain my fitness and make a comeback to the Indian team," he said.
Last September, Sandeep was accidentally hit by a bullet while travelling by train to join the World Cup-bound Indian squad in the capital. The national team badly missed the services of the penalty-corner specialist at the showpiece event in Germany and settled for a lowly 11th place in the 12-team competition.
Recalling the days of pain and agony, he said, "When I was going through pain in the night, I used to pray to God and get some relief. My family members supported me like anything. Even [IHF president] K P S Gill advised me not to bother about anything and recover completely to play again."
India's poor showing at the World Cup and Asian Games [India finished 5th] disappointed the young defender.
"I felt really bad to see our team fare so poorly. It was really disheartening to see them crash to defeats," he said.
After spending two months in the hospital, Sandeep faced a hectic schedule in a bid to regain fitness and wield the hockey stick on astro-turf again.
A 45-day physiotherapy stint in Holland followed by three months' practice under coach Inderjit Singh Gill at the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, and another month in Dutch land got him back into the groove.
But Sandeep had to wait for some more time as he had to withdraw from the camp for the Azlan Shah tournament to be at the side of his ailing mother.
"I had to miss the Azlan Shah tournament as my mother fell seriously ill. But I don't regret that. Rather, I am happy that our team did well and returned with a medal [bronze]," he said.
Sandeep is also unperturbed by the fact that the team is packed with youngsters and has a new coach in Joaquim Carvalho.
"The coach is adopting the European style of play -- otherwise, to me, there is no major difference. I will enjoy playing now," he said.
After watching the team's performance in the Azlan Shah tournament, Sandeep believes that India stands a good chance of returning to the bracket along with the world's top teams.
"I am confident that our team can hit top form. I think we have a good chance to prove that we can do well."
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