Bhubaneswar: In January 2018, Midfielder Vivek Sagar Prasad became the second-youngest player in history to make his senior team debut for India when they faced Japan in the 4-Nations Invitational Tournament in New Zealand, aged just 17 years, 10 months and 22 days.
The Madhya Pradesh Hockey Academy-graduate has since impressed many with his performances in the midfield for the Indian team, having played at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, 2018 Asian Games, FIH Men’s Champions Trophy 2018, and the 3rd Youth Olympic Games 2018 since making his senior team debut.
Vivek, now 19, has come a long way since making his debut for India, and believes that his game has also improved a lot. “Having been picked for the senior team at such a young age, it was not easy for me when I first came into the side. The intensity and skill required at the senior level, compared to the junior level, was definitely more, but I feel I have adjusted pretty well. I made my debut under Coach Sjoerd Marijne back in 2018, and he also gave me a lot of confidence. The transition has not been easy, but I feel I have improved a lot since last year, and with the help of my teammates, and my Coaches, I have been able to help the team in executing their plans,” said Vivek.
Currently working hard in training at the Kalinga Hockey Stadium with his teammates who are scheduled to take on World No. 22 Russia in their FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers Odisha, Vivek says that his side are not taking their opponents lightly. “For us, it is always about producing our best performance on the field regardless of the opponent we face. We had a very good preparatory tour of Belgium where we beat the World Champions and the Spanish team quite comprehensively. The Chief Coach also spoke to us after the tour and he was happy with the level of intensity we showed throughout the tour, and we will be aiming to do the same when we take on Russia here in Bhubaneswar,” said the 19-year-old.
Vivek’s meteoric rise can be credited to his impressive performances with the Junior team at the Sultan of Johor Cup in October 2017, where he was also the Captain of the team. It was his first tour with the national team at any level, and the boy from Madhya Pradesh did not disappoint as he also won the Best Player of the Tournament Award with his team winning the Bronze Medal.
“It was a great first tour for me personally, but of course I would have loved to win the Gold Medal. I was also given the responsibility of Captaining the side, so that lifted my performances also I feel. But the best thing about that tour was that I was called up for the Senior camp after that, and my journey started from thereon,” said Vivek.
“Every player wants to play at the Olympic Games, and my dream is the same. I know we have the team to perform well at next year’s Olympics but we don’t want to look too far ahead of us. Right now our focus is on the upcoming two matches against Russia, and we will continue to work hard to perform well in those matches. After that, we can look forward to the Olympics,” said Vivek.
The midfielder who has 57 International Caps to his name, also spoke about the positive influence senior players like Sardar Singh and PR Sreejesh have had on his game.
“I was really young when I was called up for the National Camp, and it was a dream come true for me to be playing alongside legends like Sardar Singh. He was always there to guide me in my initial days, and just speaking to him would lift my confidence. The good thing about the team has been that I have always received good advice from the experienced players like Manpreet bhai and Sreejesh bhai and for me, it has translated into good performances on the field. It is an important time for our team, and I am really looking forward to contributing in securing our place at next year’s Tokyo Olympics,” signed off Vivek, who was also named as the Best Young Player at the FIH Men’s Series Finals Bhubaneswar Odisha 2019.